Tony Blair was slammed as arrogant today after suggesting junk food is taxed until it is too expensive for the poor to eat, in a bid to reduce obesity in the UK.
The former prime minister urged the Government to have a more interventionist policy on public health, with an expansion of the sugar tax alongside new levies on foods high in fat and salt, and advertising bans.
He said ministers needed to help ‘create the circumstances’ in which poorer families choose healthy food, and likened the situation to the fight against smoking when he was in No 10 – which included a ban on publicly lighting up indoors.
In an interview with the Times he dismissed concerns about a ‘nanny state’ approach as a ‘minority view’, and said direct action was needed to make Britons take personal responsibility for their health.
But Professor Karol Sikora, a leading cancer expert who is an adviser to the World Health Organization, likened the idea to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) in London, the £12.50 daily green car levy whose expansion has prompted a wave of protests over the summer.
He said: ‘Tony Blair’s arrogance knows no bounds. Who will end up financially suffering? The poor – just like ULEZ.
‘Public health is not purely about bans, taxes and restrictions. Let’s hear a positive message – encouraging and enabling people to take responsibility for their health.’
Mr Blair had told the Times: ‘We’ve got to shift from a service that’s treating people when they’re ill to a service that is focused on well-being, on prevention, on how people live more healthy lives,’ he said.
‘You can’t run a modern healthcare system where people are going to live much longer unless they take some responsibility. You’ve got to help them do that.
‘The way of helping them do that, particularly with poor families, is to create the circumstances in which [they can choose healthier food].’
This week it was revealed a record numbers of young girls are hitting puberty too soon – with some as young as four – as experts blame obesity as a key factor.
Britain’s bulging waistline is stripping billions of pounds from the NHS each year with twice as much spent on obese patients than those of a healthy weight, a landmark study revealed earlier this year.
Costs per patient rise drastically the more people weigh, as they ‘collect obesity-related conditions’ such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, according to research involving nearly 2.5million people.
The findings lay bare the enormous strain of obesity on NHS finances – suggesting the health service would stand to gain up to £13.7 billion annually if people maintained a healthy weight.
New data shows the number of times girls were seen at hospital for cases of ‘precocious puberty’ increased to 2,032 last year, up from 1,510 previously.
Of these, 79 children had not even reached their fifth birthdays, NHS Digital hospital data showed.
A study carried out by the National Child Measurement Programme with NHS Digital in 2021 revealed the largest rise in obesity rates in schoolchildren since records began.
But the former premier was less in favour of new taxes when it comes to the prospect of a Labour government.
In a separate interview with the Financial Times he urged Sir Keir Starmer to hold to the centre ground and avoid ‘taxing and spending’ the UK out of economic turmoil.
He credited Sir Keir with bringing his party back from ‘the brink of extinction’, but warned that if he entered No 10 he would have to contend with a far more challenging situation than the one he faced when he swept to power in 1997.
He added: ‘If Sir Keir Starmer wins the election, which I think he’s got a good chance of doing, he’ll be the sixth prime minister in eight years.