Scandinavians stare down fat tax

The Globe and Mail


(Christopher Pattberg/Christopher Pattberg/iStockphoto)

Sweden is expected to adopt a tax on fatty food after a group of government economists this week said their research confirmed the move would slim people and trim national healthcare costs.

A fat tax is about to take hold in nearby Denmark, and the Norwegian health ministry is in favour.

But a popular Swedish doctor is threatening to fight the fat tax "on health grounds."

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Wearing a "High-fat, Low-carb" pin, Dr. Anikka Dahlqvist has appeared on Norwegian national television's prime-time talk shows to say carbohydrates produce an explosive release of fat the body does not process as well as it does ordinary, saturated fats.

"This is about economists coming in and having a whirl, and so they take as real the advice these advisory experts are giving -- that calories produce obesity -- but they have not understood that it is carbohydrates that do that," Dahlqvist told Norwegian NRK.

The Swedish researcher has sold 200,000 books to diet-starved Swedes keen for a return with clear consciences to familiar diets. Her advice is a diet rich in meat and fats.

Popular in Sweden but still shocking Norway, Dr. Dahqvist has coaxed thousands of her compatriots back to cooking with butter. She promises mass demonstrations with followers should overzealous economists tip the government's hand and force an early vote on a proposed fat-tax bill.

On 1 July 2011, Denmark's fat tax starts filling Copenhagen's coffers with a value-added levy on a range of fatty dairy products. Butchers have been given the same deadline to begin denoting the fat content of their cuts.

Health authorities in Norway say they've been evaluating a tax on salt and sugar, traditional mainstays in past economic contests with sibling states Sweden and Denmark.

The 160-page Swedish economists' report for the finance ministry recommends a "calorie-driven" tax for its ability to "influence consumer preferences". Price is seen as the great decider of consumption for marginal income earners, normally also those at greatest risk of obesity.

A main justification in the report is that Swedes weigh on average 8 per cent more than in the 1970's. Double as many teenage Swedes were said to be overweight than in the 1980's.

To counter the trend, the economists recommended a new Swedish tax on simple baked foods be 114 per cent. A loaf of poor-quality bread at 10 kroner could jump to 21.38 kroner.

No "sitting tax" for computer sales was recommended, although humankind's sedentary, electronics-age existence was mentioned in the report.

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