doctors ask the government

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María Jesús Montero, Minister of Finance.

This Monday the de facto drop in VAT on basic products in the shopping cart comes into force. During the next six months, the tax on foods such as eggs, flour, milk, vegetables, tubers, legumes, fruits, vegetables or cheeses will drop from four to zero percent. On the other hand, others such as oil or pasta will also have a VAT reduction, in this case they will go from 10 to five percent. This measure was announced on December 27 along with others from the Government to alleviate the effects of inflation. Many of the basic products in the shopping cart are also considered healthy and necessary for a balanced diet, Could it also positively affect the health of patients? Could it promote a good diet among vulnerable people or people at risk of poverty?

Guadalupe Blay, responsible for the Endocrinology and Nutrition work of the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG), explained to Medical Writing that, although from the outset this measure to alleviate the effects of inflation seems “correct”, there are still many “doubts” to be resolved. In addition to the fact that essential products, such as meat and fish, have been left out of the VAT reduction: “Not all foods are going to have reduced VAT, such as meat or fish, but it will depend, so what they say, about inflation,” he explains. In addition, in principle, since these are measures that will only last six months, “they are not a solution for the future, they may recover a higher price level in May or June,” he adds.

“Another issue is that one thing is that VAT goes down and another thing is that prices go down. Because, for example, if now a loaf of bread costs one euro and VAT goes down, but I go shopping and it continues to cost the same because they have gone up the price, we solve a little”, says Blay. “It will be necessary to see a little how it is derived, because companies are already saying that one thing is VAT, which is what affects the Government; and another is the price, which is what they invest and they will have to recover it”, Explain.

José Manuel Fernández García, coordinator of the Nutrition Group of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), stresses this issue: “The elevated prices of fruits and vegetables not only depend on that descent of four percent, but of the commercial margins between the producer and the last link in the food chain”.

Healthy and balanced diet for children

For her part, Concha Sánchez, president of the Association of Primary Care Pediatrics (Aepap), points out that the drop in VAT on basic products in the shopping cart It’s “great news”. “There are many disadvantaged neighborhoods in the cities where families need help and that there is a drop in VAT, especially on eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables, is a measure that it will come in handy for mothers and fathers“, explains the pediatrician. “Above all, because fruit and vegetables were becoming very expensive for families at risk of poverty. And they are fundamental foods for children, “she points out. “The pity is that this drop has not also been made in meat and fish. If they could do something with the price of fish and meat that would be great“, Add.

The pediatrician considers that it is a good measure for disadvantaged families: “This drop is going to affect the pocket of families. If parents give a healthy and balanced diet, their children will have good health”. In fact, he explains that it is a good incentive for families at risk of exclusion to “improve their children’s diet.” “But it is important that this is healthy and balanced, that the children eat more fruits, vegetables and eggs. And that they do not eat foods like industrial pastries “.

Although it may seem like a contradiction, says Sánchez, “in neighborhoods at risk of social exclusion what we find is childhood obesity.” Therefore, although it “will not directly influence” the health of children, it is a good measure so that “children’s diet is healthier”. And he recommends that parents “buy their children fresh fruit and vegetables to feed them”, now that this measure makes certain foods a little more accessible.

From Semergen, however, they have their doubts: “I have my reservations about this drop and that this means that the population is dedicated to eating more vegetables or fruit.” That is why Fernández García calls for health education campaigns that complement this measure, in addition to promoting a good food culture or reaching agreements with manufacturers of processed products to reduce the amount of salt or sugar, for example. “Reducing VAT should be accompanied by other health education and health promotion measures to achieve a real impact in terms of population health,” says Fernández García.

For Blay, the drop in VAT, “although it could be acceptable”, is not a solution to this problem. “People who are poor or vulnerable have a shopping basket with fattier, lower quality products… There is a greater tendency towards obesity. And all that is not contemplated. Is a very low drop, because if you think about it, they are foods like flour, eggs… it is necessary to consume them; but I am not so clear that it is a resolutive measure“, Add.

“There are gaps”

Despite the fact that the measure enters into force this Monday, Blay explains that there are still “gaps” in this VAT reduction and wonders what happens, for example, with gluten-free products for people with celiac disease: “They have not said if this it’s going to be done with all the bread. For example, we don’t know what’s going to happen to gluten-free bread or pasta, there are some doubts about how it will work“.

Regarding other possible measures, Blay bets on giving more aid to “farmers and ranchers” with “subsidies” so that the product is cheaper from origin “and reaches the store with a better price for people, beyond the aid or checks for 200 euros” to avoid, especially in the vulnerable population, “they have to go to food banks”. And he considers that the VAT reduction “is not going to solve the problem of feeding people”.

Regarding the exclusion of certain foods, Fernández García denounces the “lack of logic” of favoring such healthy foodslike vegetables, and leave others, such as meat or fish, which should also benefit from this reduction “if the measure was with a clear health intention.” “It would be reasonable to lower the VAT on these products if you want to promote their consumption,” he reflects.

Although it may contain statements, data or notes from health institutions or professionals, the information contained in Redacción Médica is edited and prepared by journalists. We recommend to the reader that any health-related questions be consulted with a health professional.

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