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Food and health

The Danish tax on saturated fat: why it did not survive

Abstract

Background/Objectives:

Health promoters have repeatedly proposed using economic policy tools, taxes and subsidies, as a means of changing consumer behaviour. As the first country in the world, Denmark introduced a tax on saturated fat in 2011. It was repealed in 2012. In this paper, we present arguments and themes involved in the debates surrounding the introduction and the repeal.

Subjects/Methods:

An analysis of parliamentary debates, expert reports and media coverage; key informant interviews; and a review of studies about the effects of the tax on consumer behaviour.

Results:

A tax on saturated fat had been suggested by two expert committees and was introduced with a majority in parliament, as a part of a larger economic reform package. Many actors, including representatives from the food industry and nutrition researchers, opposed the tax both before and after its introduction, claiming that it harmed the economy and had no positive influence on health, rather the contrary. Few policy actors defended the tax. Public health had a prominent role in the politicians’ arguments for introducing the tax but was barely mentioned in the debate about the repeal. Shortly after the repeal of the tax, research was published showing that consumption of saturated fat had declined in Denmark.

Conclusions:

The analysis indicates that the Danish tax on fat was introduced mainly to increase public revenue. As the tax had no strong proponents and many influential adversaries, it was repealed. New research indicates that the tax was effective in changing consumer behaviour.

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Correspondence to S Vallgårda.

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Vallgårda, S., Holm, L. & Jensen, J. The Danish tax on saturated fat: why it did not survive. Eur J Clin Nutr 69, 223–226 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2014.224

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