The government has announced that it will delay the publication of its childhood obesity strategy, effectively postponing a decision about a potential sugar tax.
Sources close to the Conservative party have indicated that it is now likely to be published in the summer, and that the concept of sugar tax is certainly not off the table.
There has been a large degree of speculation about the reasons behind the postponement of this critical document, but the Department of Health has already responded on the matter.
A statement from the department indicated that there is simply more work to do on finalising the final recommendations of the document, despite suggestions David Cameron may have delayed publication because he is concerned with the EU referendum at present.
Cameron had previously indicated that he was somewhat hostile to the concept of a sugar tax, but comments last month seem to indicate that he had softened somewhat on the subject.
In a U-turn prompted by new medical evidence, the PM commented that obesity was leading to diabetes, heart disease and potentially cancer, and that a sugar tax could be a viable solution that needed to be investigated.
The concept of a sugar tax remains controversial, with some critics suggesting that it goes against the principle of freedom of choice, and others pointing to a similar policy’s failure in Denmark.
Commenting on the issue, Cameron stated the following.
“Of course it would be far better if we could make progress on all these issues without having to resort to taxes. That would be my intention. But what matters is that we do make progress. We need to look at this in the same way in the past we have looked at the dangers of smoking to health and other health-related issues.”
While numerous high profile individuals have backed the idea of the sugar tax, the position of Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, is thought to have had a significant influence over Cameron.
Stevens suggested that a sugar tax between 10% and 20% could work effectively.
There are now four million diabetics living in Britain, and treating the condition costs the health service almost £10bn annually.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, was critical of the decision to delay this report.
“David Cameron has called children’s obesity a crisis and yet the Government has failed the next generation by stalling on one of its own health priorities. While the Government delays, more children will become obese. Our survey shows people want the Government to act to fight children’s obesity – eight out of 10 think it’s a problem.”
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, similarly believed that the strategy needs to be published as soon as possible.
“This constant delay in publishing the childhood obesity strategy is unforgivable and the Department of Health’s statement that they ‘want to get it right’ is the most ridiculous and lame excuse.”