Daily Israel Report

To Combat Obesity, Israel May Impose 'Junk Food Tax'

Israelis, like many Westerners, are getting fatter, and the government is considering taxes to discourage consumption of junk food.
By David Lev
First Publish: 3/15/2012, 3:51 PM

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As obesity rates rise in Israel, along with incidences of nutrition-related health problems, the health establishment is seriously considering slapping heavy taxes on junk food. What's more, the results of a poll presented at the annual meeting of the country's most important health policy group showed that many Israelis would approve of such taxes.

The poll, which will be formally submitted to the Health Ministry in the coming weeks, was presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the National Institute for Health Policy Research (NIHP). According to the poll of a representative sample of 250 Israelis from all economic backgrounds, a large number of Israelis would approve of a surtax of between 10% and 30% on junk food. A separate poll of health experts showed wide approval among professionals for such taxes as well.

The poll said that both the public and experts would approve of taxes on items like chocolate, candy, salty snacks, and foods with high percentages of saturated fat.

If Israel were to approved such taxes, it would be joining a host of European countries that have already imposed such taxes, or are planning to. Britain, for example, imposes a special VAT charge on soft drinks, and Austria taxes high-saturated fat foods. In France, taxes have been imposed on chocolate, margarine, and vegetable oil. Polls taken in Europe, Australia and the U.S. show significant support for such taxes; in Australia, 64% of those polled support junk food taxes, along with 59% of Canadians. Polls in the U.S. have shown middling (31% in New York) to strong (56% in California) support for taxes on fattening foods.

Last November, the government's economic-social cabinet approved a national health plan. The plan recommends, among other things, banning sales of foods with trans-fats, improving the calorie listings and nutritional information on products, and including fruits and vegetables as part of the entertainment costs exemption for businesses.

According to the Health Ministry, 37% of Israeli adults are overweight, and 15% are chronically obese. Among youth, 14% are overweight, and 7% chronically obese. The Ministry estimates that costs for weight-related issues costs the Israeli economy NIS 5.8 billion annually.