Companies earn £52.7bn a year from sales of tobacco, junk food and excess alcohol in the UK, and their consumption is contributing to the rising wave of disease in Britain, according to a report.
The figures prompted a coalition of health, medical and children’s organizations to call for an urgent crackdown on “irresponsible behavior by industries that harm health.”
The government’s inability to adequately regulate those industries was harming public health, increasing pressure on the National Health Service and causing a £31 billion hit to the economy, they said. Manufacturers were making enormous profits by bombarding consumers with marketing and deliberately obstructing government efforts to restrict their activities, such as by seeking to discredit scientific evidence of harm.
The report was prepared by health organizations and the economic consulting firm Landman Economics. It is the first to estimate exactly how much money people in Britain spend on “risky consumption” of products that, according to evidence, are, or may be, bad for human health.
It found that consumers spend £81.5bn a year on unhealthy products, from which the Treasury earns £28.8bn through VAT revenue.
The research was carried out by Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) and Action on Of smoking and Health (Ash) in conjunction with Landman Economics. For example, they estimated that 28.8% of all food purchased by UK households is unhealthy because it fails to meet the government’s dietary guidelines for fat, salt or sugar (HFSS). Together, those sales bring the food industry £34.2 billion.
Similarly, they found that 43.4% of all alcohol consumed in the UK is drunk by people who exceed the government’s safe drinking guidelines of 14 units per week and is therefore potentially harmful. The alcohol industry makes £11.2bn from this consumption. And they discovered that the tobacco industry’s entire £7.3bn annual revenue comes from selling products that are known to kill half of the people who use them.
“These findings show that these health-damaging industries are making obscene amounts of money selling us products that make us sick,” said Hazel Cheeseman, Ash’s deputy chief executive.
One in eight (13%) adults in England smoke, one in five (21%) drink more than the recommended maximum of 14 units a week and 64% of adults are overweight or obese.
The three health organizations said: “Big business is currently profiting from poor health caused by smoking, drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy foods, while the public pays the price with poor health, higher taxes and a low economy. performance”.
The research also found that:
NHS hospitals admit 2.5 million patients a year for the treatment of illnesses directly related to being overweight (1.02 million), alcohol consumption (980,000) or smoking (506,000).
Around 459,000 people cannot work because they are too sick to do so as a result of smoking (289,000), alcohol consumption (99,000) or morbid obesity, with a body mass index greater than 40 (70,000).
People who smoke or drink at unhealthy levels are more likely to be out of work and earn less than those who don’t, a “wage penalty” for their unhealthy lifestyles.
That wage penalty, along with unemployment and lost productivity due to smoking, alcohol and obesity, costs the UK £31bn a year.
Health groups urged ministers to take tough action to give greater priority to public health, given the extent of the damage caused by the products of the three multi-billion pound industries. They call on the government to crack down on advertising; increase the price and age of sale of harmful products; removing certain products from prominent positions in stores and creating media campaigns to alert the public about the risks posed by “harmful products.”
“Tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods are causing significant harm to our society,” said Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, president of the AHA and president of the British Medical Association. “The government cannot afford to sit idly by any longer.
“As funding for public sector services declines, the industries selling these harmful products are lining their pockets with billions in revenue. It is time for the government to put the health of our nation before the profits of the industry,” he added.
The Portman Group, an alcohol industry trade body, said cracking down on alcohol was unnecessary because most adults drank moderately. The health groups’ proposals, including the minimum unit price, were “disproportionate and inappropriate,” said Matt Lambert, its chief executive.
“Significant progress has been made in tackling harmful alcohol use in recent years, thanks in part to programs funded by the alcohol industry, and it is counterproductive to try to prevent greater cooperation between government, industry and third-party organisations. sector on these issues. “We also openly support specific and tailored measures aimed at those who drink the most, and agree that all those who need it should be able to access treatment.”
The Food and Drink Federation declined to comment.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.