The French may have a reputation abroad for slim waist lines and good healthy food but the reality is one third of the population are either overweight or obese. And the numbers are only going to increase.
And they are putting a strain on the country’s health system and economy.
A new study by the country’s Treasury (Trésor), a part of the Ministry of Finance which looks at debt and how the state can save money, suggests it’s time to get the tax man involved.
Why don’t we just tax junk food, was one of the conclusions of the report.
The report does not suggest taxing one particular product, like the famous “red bull tax” on energy drinks, but rather the foods that are the most calorific or least nutritional.
The tax would not just be aimed at cutting waistlines but also the economic impact on the country's coffers.
To support the radical plan the Treasury spelled out the economic impact of the country’s growing overweight population.
According to the Treasury obesity levels in France cost the country €20.4 billion a year – an amount similar to economic impact of smoking and drinking alcohol.
That’s because some 25 million French who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension or certain cancers. So they are more likely to cost the state whether it’s in terms of health costs, work stoppages or invalid pensions.
And costs will only keep on rising with the number of overweight and obese people in France set to hit 33 million by 2030.
France already imposes taxes on energy drinks and fizzy drinks – which pulls in €400 million a year, but the Treasury wants to go further.
But for the “fatty food tax” to be effective it must be significant as the report points out that the deterrent of a small price increase is not enough to turn people off greasy grub.
Another option the government could explore is to increase VAT on the products “most harmful to health”.
The Treasury also recommended other suggestions linked to preventative health such as campaigns against fatty food or limiting the power of advertising of certain junk foods, especially to children.
The problem for France, like in many countries, is that obesity rates are linked to poverty rates and the government does not want any new taxes to hit the country’s worst off.
France’s budget minister Christian Eckert has already said he is not in favour of having a tax link to the number of calories or by raising taxes on junk food.
Eckert believes that would be just too complex.
So what is the solution to rising levels of obesity and the cost on a country?