The Irish Heart Foundation has called for take-away fast food to be taxed at the highest rate of VAT to combat our growing obesity crisis.

Head of advocacy at the foundation, Chris Macey, said that it made no sense to tax sugar-sweetened drinks as a health measure, while retaining another measure that has made unhealthy food cheaper.

He was reacting to a revelation on RTÉ’s This Week programme that hot take-away food benefits from a special 9% VAT rate introduced in 2011.

The reduced rate, introduced with permission from the EU, was designed to boost the Irish hospitality sector.

Mr Macey said: "We would say that this rate should not just go back to 13.5% for hot take away food. It should be taxed at the highest rate."

He added: "Defibrillators that save people’s lives are taxed at the highest rate, yet we have a situation where hot take-away food that is contributing to the biggest health crisis in the history of the State is taxed at a low rate."

Dr Donal O'Shea, the HSE’s lead on obesity, said the tax anomaly was "completely counter productive".

Speaking on the same programme, he said that one in four Irish adults were now obese, and in some disadvantaged areas 12% of three-year-olds were obese.

Dr O'Shea said the consumption of fast food was directly linked to the over-weight and obesity statistics.

He said fiscal measures to encourage health lifestyles work better than public health campaigns.

Breen Cassidy, tax partner with EY, said it was not currently possible to separate out take-away restaurants from other restaurants when it comes to European VAT rates.

"From a health perspective, there is nothing in VAT legislation at European level, and consequently at Irish level, which allows you to differentiate VAT rates on health grounds."