25% fruit and veg subsidy would save nation’s waistline, study finds
Forget a fat tax – the best way to save the nation’s waistline is to subsidize fruits and vegetables, a study finds.
Not only could it shave pennies off the weekly shopping list, but the researchers say the policy could also “be a huge payoff for public health.”
Economists at the University of Warwick estimate that a 25% subsidy on fresh fruit and vegetables would lead to a 15% increase in their sales.
The short shelf life of fresh produce means that fruits and vegetables generally have higher fixed costs than ready meals and junk foods which have a longer shelf life.
A 25% subsidy could raise a pack of six Pink Lady apples from £2.80 to £2.10, or a 400g box of Essential Waitrose strawberries from £2 to £1.50.
The researchers estimate UK supermarkets sold around £10.4bn of fresh produce in 2017, meaning the subsidy would cost the taxpayer around £2.5bn a year.
By comparison, the NHS currently spends around £6billion a year on obesity-related illnesses, which is expected to rise to £9.7billion by 2050.
It comes amid a government crackdown on obesity spurred by Boris Johnson’s near-death 2020 battle with Covid, which he accused of being too fat.
But many of the policies being considered – including tougher advertising rules and taxes on junk food – have been called “nanny” by critics.
Professor Van Rens, an economist at Warwick, said: ‘A subsidy is in some ways the most market-based and least invasive intervention you can think of.
Not only could this shave pennies off the weekly shopping list, but the researchers say a 25% subsidy on fruits and vegetables could also “be a huge gain for public health”.
“Anything less than that gives friendly advice and will not get us where we need to be.”
From next month mandatory calorie labeling will be introduced in many restaurants, cafes and takeaways in England.
And from October, “multi-buy” junk food offers will be banned, including “buy one, get one free” offers.
A new watershed policy restricting the advertising of foods and drinks high in salt, fat and sugar before 9 p.m. will also be introduced by 2023.
But the The Warwick team questioned the effectiveness of the policies.
Hiding chocolate eggs at the end of aisles in supermarkets would help prevent weight gain after Easter
Abandoning promotional Easter egg stands in supermarkets could cut sales threefold and help the nation lose weight, researchers say.
Researchers at the University of Oxford found that stores that removed stalls promoting chocolate eggs and other seasonal treats from checkouts, aisle ends and special promotion stalls only saw than a 5% increase in confectionery sales at Easter.
This compares to an 18% increase in sales when chocolate was positioned in key locations in supermarkets.
This led shoppers to purchase 4,998 kilograms less of candies and chocolates, which researchers say resulted in lower total calorie consumption.
While it could hurt supermarket bottom lines, such health interventions could help save the country’s size, Oxford experts have said. Around a quarter of UK adults and children are classed as obese.
The trial took place in 34 stores between February 15 and April 3, 2019 in the UK.
Another study by Oxford academics found that storing low-fat, low-calorie snack alternatives close to traditional produce encouraged Britons to opt for healthier choices.
Professor Van Rens added: ‘Obesity is a huge public health problem and we are not going to solve it with tweaks. We need to get the big guns out.
The new study, published in the journal Scientists progressfound that, on average, Britons pay 40% more than the production costs for fruit and vegetables.
Fresh foods have particularly high fixed costs because they are perishable products that need to be replenished more frequently.
This drives up the price of fresh produce compared to other less healthy products that are sold near their marginal cost.
Economists looked at detailed data on food purchases between 2004 and 2014 from a US database of 60,000 households with varying income levels.
They used the data to model how the high costs of fruits and vegetables deterred people from buying them often.
The study found that people would buy 15% more fruits and vegetables if they were cheaper.
Only around three in 10 Britons eat the recommended five days, or 400g of fruit or vegetables.
The Warwick team estimates that their grant could close the gap by a third.
Professor Van Rens said: ‘If there were no fixed costs, you would expect food to be sold at close to marginal cost. And the fact that they are not affects diets.
“A higher price of any product means people buy less of it. The question is how much?
“We find that if the market were functioning properly, consumers would buy 15% more fruit and vegetables than they currently do, which would be a huge gain for public health.”
Mr Johnson announced a 2020 obesity crackdown after being admitted to intensive care with Covid, which he attributed to being overweight.
As part of the plan, new laws restricting the offerings of high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods are due to come into effect at medium and large retail outlets in October.
Junk food giants will also be banned from advertising online and before 9 p.m. on TV by January 2023.
The Prime Minister has also been recommended by his food czar Henry Dimbleby to slap processed foods high in sugar and salt with a levy.
More than a quarter of children entering primary school are now overweight or obese, rising to four in 10 for 11-12 year olds.
And children in the poorest areas are more than twice as likely to be obese as those in the wealthiest areas.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, costing the health service £6billion a year.
The government has pledged to halve childhood obesity and tackle narrow inequalities between young people in the most and least deprived areas by 2030.
Rules due to come into effect in eight months would require stores with more than 50 employees to phase out offers on foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
They will also be ordered to no longer promote unhealthy food offers at checkouts, at store entrances or at the end of aisles.
Pubs and restaurants are also affected by the new rules and will no longer be allowed to offer free refills of sugary soft drinks.
Local authorities will have the power to impose fines on companies that do not follow the rules.
The government estimates the regulations will yield £60million in health benefits over 25 years through improved quality of life and life extension through lower obesity rates.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET RESULT IN?
Meals should be potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starches, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-grain bread, and a large baked potato with the skin on.
• Have dairy products or dairy alternatives (like soy beverages) choosing low fat and low sugar options
• Eat beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume them in small amounts
• Drink 6 to 8 cups/glasses of water per day
• Adults should consume less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide