20 per cent sugar tax necessary to encourage healthy lifestyles in children, report argues

Kurt Wood
Tue, 01 Dec 2015
20 per cent sugar tax necessary to encourage healthy lifestyles in children, report argues
A 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks is essential for any national strategy to reduce rates of childhood obesity, according to a new report. The authors argue that obesity during childhood increases the risk of several conditions - including type 2 diabetes - later in life, and that healthy eating should start at a young age.

The report urges David Cameron, who has so far been against the introduction of a sugar tax, to back the measure. However, it is without public support. A recent report found that two-thirds of the British public is against the sugar tax, believing that it will be excessively punitive for people who drink moderate amounts of sugary soft drinks, rather than targeting the specific people it aims to help.

"The scale and consequences of childhood obesity demand bold and urgent action from government," says the report. "We urge the prime minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children's health and life chances through his childhood obesity strategy.

"Physical activity has enormous benefits, regardless of weight, but encouraging people to increase their physical activity levels alone is unlikely to have an impact on the obesity crisis.

Sugar tax has frequently been in the headlines in recent months, largely because of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's efforts to have such a measure introduced. Oliver is taxing all sugary drinks in his own restaurants. His petition has been signed by more than 150,000 people.

However, many feel that the tax will punish the poor, with only more affluent people able to afford sugary drinks. Tory MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the health select committee and supports the introduction of sugar tax, said:

"We do not believe that this is an attack on low income families as industry lobbyists will no doubt claim, but rather an essential part of trying to reverse the harm caused by these products."

The measure could also be said to harm people with type 1 diabetes, many of whom rely on sugary drinks to correct low blood glucose levels. Sugary drinks are fast-acting and affordable. So far, there has been no official comment on how the sugar tax will affect people with type 1, or if people with type 1 diabetes would be exempt from a sugar tax.

Several commentators believe that the sugar tax is only a first step, that it must be part of a wider campaign to reduce the power of the food industry and discourage people from following an unhealthy diet. Despite many healthy eating announcements, there is no clear evidence as to which diet is the most healthy. Much of the recent research suggests that processed carbohydrates contribute far more to high rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes than healthy fats, which contrasts with the NHS' advice to follow a diet low in dietary fats. This advice has been the cornerstone of official dietary guidelines since the late 1970s.

Amidst the debate, manufacturers of unhealthy foods face no restrictions on advertising, and are subjected only to the "Responsibility Deal," which encourages food manufacturers to put less sugar in their products, but imposes no sanctions for failing to do so.

Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist of Public Health England, said: "PHE's evidence is clear; what we see in the media, on our streets and in shops is encouraging us to eat too much sugar. We need a range of measures including controls on marketing, advertising and price discounts of sugary products and reducing the added sugar in foods and drinks, to help tackle the obesity epidemic.

"Being obese can have a devastating impact on a child's life. They are more likely to experience bullying, low self-esteem, be absent from school and have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life."

Nutritionist Jennifer Rosborough said: "It is inevitable that manufacturers will have to reformulate their food and drink products to reduce the amount of sugar, fat and overall calories."

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), dismissed the calls for a sugar tax, saying:

"This was not an inquiry in the conventional meaning of the word. It was part of the PR campaign by the health lobby to persuade ministers to introduce a tax on soft drinks.

"By its own admission, the health select committee is merely proposing this tax because it's easy to do, yet there is no evidence worldwide that such a tax has an effect on obesity."

Partington recommended two measures that would be more effective than a sugar tax: reducing portion sizes and reformulating products.
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