WALES' new tax-raising powers could be used to improve population health and reduce deaths from non-communicable disease, a review has concluded.

The review of existing health literature from Public Health Wales found that novel approaches to tax on high fat, high salt or high sugar foods, have helped reduce the buying and consumption of these foods in other countries, including in Mexico and Hungary.

Aimed at health policymakers, the review looks at how innovative financial policies might help Wales meet the United Nations’ sustainable development goals of reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, including obesity-related diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and cancers, by one third by 2030.

The Welsh Government's Well-being of Future Generations Act, which sets a unique legislative backdrop that underpins all public policy decisions, is seen as an advantage in helping achieve such aims.

“In the UK we have a long history of using tax to drive down consumption levels of tobacco and alcohol, which has helped improve the health of the population," said Dr Sumina Azam, head of policy at Public Health Wales, and co-author of the review.

“The report findings suggest that the Welsh Government has a unique opportunity to explore how its new tax-raising powers can help improve public health.

"Such a move could command public support, with eight out of every 10 respondents to the recent Stay Well in Wales survey agreeing that healthy foods should cost a bit less and unhealthy foods a bit more. Only six percent of respondents disagreed.”

Professor Mark Bellis, director of policy and international health, at the Wolrd Health Organisation Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health & Well-being, based at Public Health Wales, said: “It is important that taxation is not seen in isolation, but as a tool to use in combination with other health-focused policies.

"To be effective, tax interventions may need to be supported with subsidies for healthier options and other policies that help reduce health-harming behaviours, support people who live in more disadvantaged communities, and guide consumers towards healthier consumption”.

Lead report author Adam Jones, of Public Health Wales, commenting on the potential application of additional taxes in Wales, said: “From reviewing international examples of taxation aimed at improving health and reducing consumption of unhealthy commodities, we found valuable lessons for any Government seeking to introduce new policy in this arena.”