Hospitality operators are divided over new proposals to introduce a UK-wide junk food tax to combat rising levels of obesity.
Researchers from Oxford and Nottingham universities have developed three models of taxation to improve public health and prevent more than 3,000 deaths a year caused by unhealthy foods.
They found the most effective system would tax foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar, including those that might not rate as very unhealthy but are seen as alternatives to the unhealthiest foods.
Tom Allchurch, founder of healthy fast-food chain Fresh Italy, said he would be in favour of a junk food tax. He agreed with the experts' view that the answer could lie in how VAT was set.
"If VAT rates were set in line with the healthiness of food, it would create significant relative price advantages for healthier food, dramatically changing its popularity," he said. "This system could easily be linked with the Food Standards Agency's food-labelling system and work in such a way that the worse foods score on its scale, the higher they are taxed."
However, Alastair Storey, chief executive of contract caterer BaxterStorey, dismissed the proposal as a "police state" measure.
"People should not be taxed for the food they want to eat and should be encouraged to make healthy choices through education, communication and being offered healthy alternatives," he said. "Introducing a tax on unhealthy foods would be a bad idea."