In a surprise announcement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has announced a sugar tax as part of the 2016 budget.
Soft drinks manufacturers will be taxed according to the volume of the sugar-sweetened drinks they produce or import.
Drinks will be separated into two categories depending on the amount of sugar content that is contained within them.
Already evidence provided by the BBC indicates that the majority of soft drinks will fall into the higher band of the two.
The first taxation group will be for drinks with a total sugar content above 5g per 100ml, and a second higher band will address the most sugary drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.
It had been widely expected that Osborne would delay a decision on this sugar tax, but the Government spoke of the obesity epidemic when announcing the decision.
The tax will come into force in two years’ time in order to give companies time to change the ingredients of their products.
It is estimated that this new taxation will raise over £500 million annually, with investment being made in doubling funding from sport in primary schools.
Osborne particularly cited the fact that five year-olds are consuming their bodyweight in sugar every year on average.
It is also believed that within a single generation more than half of all boys could be overweight or obese, with the figure being a startling 70% for girls.
“I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation ‘I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’,” Osborne stated.
Commenting on the issue, Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, welcomed the sugar taxation, suggesting that it could play a role in positive health outcomes for young people in particular.
“This is a really important victory for children’s health. Not only will this tax on sugary drinks encourage people to shift towards healthier drinks, but it sends out a wider message about our need to cut down on sugar, and for businesses to reduce the sugar in their products. The Chancellor has taken a bold step in what we hope will be a key pillar of the Government’s forthcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy.”
But Clark also suggested that the taxation should be considered but a single pillar in a broader UK strategy.
“On its own, a sugary drinks tax won’t solve the UK’s childhood obesity crisis, which is why it needs to be coupled with robust restrictions on unhealthy food marketing online and across all forms of media, including a 9pm watershed for TV advertising of junk food, alongside a series of other measures on reformulation, labelling and the provision of healthier, more sustainable food in our communities.”
Although the level of obesity in the UK is not seriously challenged, many people nonetheless suppose the sugar tax for several reasons.
It is asserted by critics that it will have little influence over the level of sugar being consumed and offers little more than a revenue generation mechanism, and libertarians believe that it goes against basic freedom of choice.
Denmark introduced a sugar tax in 2011, before repealing it due to its ineffectiveness just one year later.
It seems increasingly likely that the UK government will ultimately attempt to introduce some form of sugar tax, at least according to the recent policy of NHS England.
Hospitals are being ordered to remove adverts and price promotions for unhealthy food in hospitals and other health centres from next month.
In addition, trusts that intend to acquire money to assist with encouraging staff to adopt healthy lifestyles will be forced to submit information on fast-food franchises, vending machines and other retail outlets on their sites.
It is believed that this will play a significant role in helping a sugar tax to be implemented in roughly April 2017.
And although the government has placed its cards very close to its chest on the issue, it is generally considered that a 20% tax is ultimately likely.
Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, has announced that £600 million of funding will be diverted to hospitals and other trusts in order to fund the initiative, and that certain conditions will be attached to the award of this funding.
The package includes schemes to increase the number of staff walking and cycling to work, and will also provide more opportunities for other physical activity, including team sports, fitness classes and running clubs.
But trusts will need to prove that they are deserving of the money, and that they are making sufficient efforts to ensure that nutritious food is served on their premises.
Commenting on the issue, Stevens suggested that nutrition is a key aspect of overall health, and that employees across the NHS should be encouraged to make healthy and sensible choices.
“A good place to start is by tackling the sources of staff sickness absence, including mental health and musculoskeletal injuries, while doing our bit to end the nation’s obesity epidemic by ditching junk food and sugary drinks in place of tasty, healthy and affordable alternatives. If we can do this well, we hope that more parts of the public and private sector will see the sense of it and also take the plunge.”
Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, welcomed the initiative and suggested that it was an example of the NHS practising what it preaches on the subject of diet and health.
“The NHS stands to pick up the tab for our obesity crisis, so it is welcome and apt that it should set a strong example when it comes to tackling obesity among its own staff. There is much in this initiative that the government can and should take heed of when it comes to delivering its own obesity strategy, especially the emphasis on delivering financial incentives and environmental changes, rather than expecting education alone to do the trick.”
Over 60% of adults in the UK are currently overweight according to the latest statistics, and this figure could reach 70% by 2030 based on current trends.
As the debate on sugar, diet and obesity rages on, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has thrown its has into the ring.
The authoritative health organisation has stated its support for the introduction of a sugar tax in soft drinks.
This opinion forms part of a major report on the childhood obesity, with sugary drinks fingered as a major contributor to this phenomenon.
The move increases pressure on the UK government, as it prepares to issue its own strategy for tackling obesity in the UK.
Although there have been critics of the idea of a sugar tax, and the idea has previously bombed in Germany, the World Health Organisation outlines the arguments in favour of the idea in its recent report.
The WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity indicates that there is significant evidence suggesting that a sugar tax can have a strong influence on childhood obesity, when combined with other measures.
In addition to the sugar tax, the organisation also suggests that tackling portion sizes and improving food labelling would be beneficial for consumers.
The WHO believes that if countries fail to act sufficiently in order to address the existing situation that the medical, social and economic consequences will be of major magnitude.
Junk food is also targeted by the report, with the WHO suggesting that the marketing of fast food to children should be clamped down on in particular.
The suggestion is also mooted for schools to completely ban the sale of unhealthy food in their cafeterias.
Recent figures have indicated that the level of obesity in Britain is reaching an extremely unhealthy proportion.
Indeed, the UK is now the second lardiest nation in Europe, with only Hungary having a higher percentage of obesity according to the latest research.
The report states: “Childhood obesity is at crisis level in many countries and poses an urgent and serious challenge. The increasing rates of childhood obesity cannot be ignored and governments need to accept the responsibility to address this issue, on behalf of the children they are ethically bound to protect.”
Current estimates indicate that sugar is responsible for nearly 15% of all calorie intake in UK school-aged children.
And research by the University of Liverpool, which reviewed 22 separate studies, found that food advertising exposure has a massive influence on food consumption.
Dr Emma Boyland, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health & Society, commented that advertising has a particularly pernicious influence.
“Through our analysis of these published studies I have shown that food advertising doesn’t just affect brand preference – it drives consumption. Given that almost all children in Westernised societies are exposed to large amounts of unhealthy food advertising on a daily basis this is a real concern.”
Although Prime Minister David Cameron has yet to commit to a sugar tax, it does seem that the possibility is looming.
This will undoubtedly anger libertarians and those who believe it is both nannying and an ineffective way of addressing the issue of obesity.
Public Health England has finally released the results of its sugar-related survey.
The report has been plagued with controversy after accusations that the Conservative government embargoed it in order to ensure media attention was focused on its party conference.
Unquestionably, the headline recommendation of the survey is that a 10-15% taxation on sugary drinks and food should be imposed.
And there is already a heated debate on the subject, with observers both strongly for and against the concept.
The television chef Jamie Oliver has notably lent his support to the idea of a sugar tax, stating that he believed parents should not view sugary treats as being a valid part of hydration and nutrition.
And there seems to be something of a sense of enthusiasm for the idea on the political left, Alice the obesity academic in the UK shows a few signs of abating.
Conversely, the libertarian argument related to the sugar tax is that people should exercise self-control and personal choice.
The Daily Telegraph argues that food manufacturers should be obliged to make nutritional information extremely clear, so that people can make informed decisions.
It is also notable that Denmark has previously introduced both a sugar and fat tax, but repealed both pretty rapidly.
The Danish government ultimately noted that the decision had little impact on eating habits, while putting Danish jobs at risk, while creating unnecessary bureaucracy.
Nonetheless, there is now likely to be a public and political debate on the introduction of a sugar tax as the parliament mulls over the idea.
Aside from the sugar tax, Public Health England has made seven other recommendations as it looks to have a positive impact on the health of the nation.
These include a reduction in price promotions at supermarkets, and a diminution in the marketing and advertising of high-sugar food and drink to kids.
The report was particularly critical of sugary drinks, noting that they boost sugar levels in the body while adding no nutritional value.
“Sugar Reduction: The evidence for action” is available online, and ultimately suggests a nuanced program of collaborative measures in order to reduce the level of sugar being consumed in the UK.
Commenting on the issue, Professor Vaeed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine, University of Glasgow, outlined his belief that obesity must be tackled head on.
“To tackle obesity we must do much, much more [than just reduce sugar intake]. In fact, plentiful evidence still points towards excess fat as a major contributor to excess calories (more so than sugar) so we cannot become distracted by this ‘sugar battle’.
“Equally, ready access to cheap calorific foods is pervasive and tackling such issues will be difficult. These are difficult issues. Cutting excess calories requires a broader approach and will take many years, but we do have to start somewhere, and ultimately the government needs to take the lead.”