In response to the news announcing that the Polish Parliament proposal to increase the current value added tax (VAT) from 8 to 23% on a series of unhealthy products, had been abandoned, EPHA has sent an Open Letter to the Polish Government. Having consistently advocated for actions to reduce the level of obesity around Europe, EPHA expressed its sincere disappointment to such a missed opportunity.
On 10 January 2012 an article was published in the Polish news portal TVN24, “Wyższego VAT nie będzie. Chipsy zdrową żywnością? SPRZECIW RESORTÓW ZDROWIA I ROLNICTWA (in Polish)” ("No to increased VAT. Are chips healthy food?", announcing that the Polish Parliament’s proposal to increase the current value added tax (VAT) from 8 to 23% on a series of unhealthy products (in Polish), had been abandoned. EPHA has sent an Open Letter to the Polish Governement in reaction to this news.
Having consistently advocated for actions to reduce the level of obesity around Europe, the European public health community would like to applaud the Polish government for its willingness to address one of the main consumption drivers - price; however, strongly regrets the lack of support expressed by several Ministries to such a proposal when opportunity arisen. Notably, in a surprising move the Ministry of Health - which should have public health of the society at the heart of all decision making, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development - which is responsible for helping to provide society with the fundamental public goods like food of healthy and nutritious value - have therefore missed the opportunity to have an impact on growing chronic diet-related diseases and obesity levels. EPHA expressed its sincere disappointment to such a back track.
Poland, as many European countries, faces overweight, obesity and diet-related diseases that constitute a real burden for society. Beyond the impact on both short- and long-term health outcomes by chronic diet-related diseases and obesity (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, type II diabetes); there is also an economic perspective that should be considered. It is estimated that cardiovascular diseases cost the EU economy in excess of €192 billion every year , whilst 75% of them can be avoided .
The main risk factors for overweight, obesity, and diet-related diseases are well known and modifiable. Poor diet and a lack of sufficient physical activity result in a situation whereby the energy intake exceeds the amount being expended in our daily lives.
At a population level, food consumption is driven by price, availability and marketing, to which certain social groups are particularly vulnerable – children and adolescents, young families, low socio economic groups notably. Over the last few years, we have witnessed an increase in the consumption of products high in fat, sugar or salt, products that are available at a cheap price and this clearly contributes to the worsening of the situation.
Fiscal measures applied to food policy
While implemented in certain countries since more than 70 years, fiscal measures have been increasingly debated in European Union Member States over the past months. Denmark, Hungary and France notably, adopted law introducing taxation of unhealthy products. Pricing interventions have been shown to produce meaningful changes in patterns of food consumption and a reduction in diet-related diseases, particularly when applied on a multi-nutrient basis. Combined with health promotion measures designed to increase awareness of the health issues associated with a poor diet, the impact of fiscal measures applied to food policy can be significant. EPHA strongly encourages governments to consider using other pricing mechanisms, i.e subsidies to make the healthy options of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and pulses more widely available and affordable.
If current trends persist, it is estimated that the global burden of non-communicable diseases (CVD, cancer, respiratory diseases and mental health disorders) will cost a total lost output of US $47 trillion over the two coming decades . In order to combat such a burden, it is crucial to obtain support and involvement from all ministries. Health is not only a matter to concern health-related actors. In fact, health – as a public good – is a domain for which all government agencies share their responsibility. Every policy that is implemented has a direct or indirect impact on the population’s health. Fiscal policies can play a crucial role in the fight against overweight, obesity and diet-related diseases but for this, the support of multiple Ministries is needed.
The European public health community strongly encourages the Polish Government to reconsider its initiative and take it forwards as the governments of Denmark, Hungary and recently France have done. In times of austerity, food taxation offers governments a two pronged arrow to deal with two of the most pertinent issues they face: not only offering important action to tackle the obesity epidemic by encouraging the consumption of healthy option whilst reducing unhealthy options on the market, but the revenues produced can also boost government budgets – contrained by the ongoing economic crisis.
 European Heart Network - European cardiovascular disease statistics (2008)
 O’Flaherty & Capewell S. Recent levelling of CHD mortality rates among young adults in Scotland may reflect major social inequalities. BMJ 2009; 339: b2613
 The Global Economic Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases, World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health, September 2011
EPHA related articles