Is fat good for us? An historical view of Denmark’s new ‘fat tax’.

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I was interested to read recently that Denmark has introduced a ‘fat tax’ on food. The question is whether this is likely to achieve the desired outcome of reducing obesity? You can read a related report here:

This was of particular interest as I’ve been ploughing through cookbooks and home economics books from the early part of the 20th century over the last year for this blog, and working out the costs and calories involved in these diets, heavy as they were in saturated fat and meat. There are some striking points of comparison to be made.

Most of us simple could not afford to eat as much meat as the average working family put away a hundred years ago (you’d end up spending £70-£80 a week on meat and fish alone for a family of four), and we could not afford to home grow as much produce as many families did – we rely on mass produced fruit and vegetables which works out a lot cheaper, but which are probably lower in nutritional values. The calorific values of our great-grandparents’ diets were much greater than ours, as the meals had a heavy emphasis on animal fats like suet, lard, whole milk, and carbohydrates.

However despite all this eating, people’s average weights were lower, and the only reason for this as far as I can see is the amount of walking they did, and the absence of TV, which meant they engaged in a lot more low level exercise throughout the day instead of slumping on the sofa for hours on end like many of us do. There was less snacking and use of processed foods as well, which may have meant that individual blood sugar and leptin levels may have been controlled differently by people’s bodies. Added to this, previous generations were also shorter on average, and children matured later, probably because of illness in early childhood, and in some cases a poor quality diet deficient in calcium and other vital minerals in the case of deprived households.

Bearing all this in mind, taxing fat seems pointless – it would surely make more sense to focus on increasing engagement in low level exercise for the whole population. However taxing things actively raises money for governments, which makes me suspicious about the motives here, given there is no evidence that just avoiding fat makes you slim (which it doesn’t – if only it were that simple!) Another vested interest might be the food industry, which processes foods to make them low fat, but potentially at the cost of some nutritional values.

Do comment on this blog post if you have views on Denmark’s new policy.

Image: Grant Cochrane /


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