The introduction of some of Europe’s most far-reaching taxes on unhealthy foods has sparked renewed debate about the effect of such levies on poor people.
The taxes, which were passed by the Hungarian parliament in July and will take effect on Sep. 1, apply to a range of foods with high salt and sugar levels, including chocolates, ice creams, energy drinks, biscuits and crisps.
Supporters have hailed the levies as the most far-reaching of their kind in Europe and say they will help improve diets.
The government says the tax will raise 74 million euros a year and plans to use the money to help finance healthcare.
But some doctors have warned that such taxes will not only be ineffective in reducing obesity and promoting healthy eating but will disproportionately affect the poor.
Dr Eduard Adamescu, a specialist in diabetes and metabolic and nutritional diseases in neighbouring Romania, points out that even broader taxes on unhealthy foods proposed last year in his country failed to get through parliament.
The draft legislation, which would have been the most extensive in the world and included charges on fast food products and fats, was eventually dropped.
Ministers admitted they feared the effects on a population which spends the majority of its average wage of less than 300 euros a month on food, and that already bad diets among poor people would become even worse.
Dr Adamescu, who works at the Nicolae Malaxa Hospital in Bucharest, told IPS: "Poor people in Romania eat very fatty foods at home. If those products are taxed they will turn to even cheaper products and will have an even more nutritionally unbalanced diet."
Food industry leaders have said the same. Romania’s Food Industry Federation head Dragos Frumesu explained to local media: "Romanians eat junk because ...