The NHS is set to take a lead on public health and ban or impose a tax on sugary drinks sold in hospitals.
Chief executive Simon Stevens has stated his desire to set a healthy example for the rest of society.
Trials are planned for four NHS hospitals, with the intention of floating the policy.
England would be the first country in the world to take such action, should the plan go ahead.
The consultation will runs until 18th January next year.
Drinks affected by the potential initiative would be any with added sugar, including fruit juices, sweetened milk-based drinks and sweetened coffees.
The soft drinks industry has naturally responded strongly to this suggestion.
Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association, commented that “it’s hard to see how a ban on soft drinks can be justified given that the sector has led the way in reducing consumers’ sugar intake”.
It is believed that a 20% tax on sugary drinks would raies int the region of £30 million annually.
The authorities state that revenue would then be reinveted in patient charities and “health and wellbeing programmes” to help keep the NHS’s 1.3 million employees fit.
During recent trials, one hospital that banned sugary drinks found the overall total number of drinks sold did not decrease, meaning vendors were financially unaffected.
Stevens suggested that the move could have a positive impact on diabetes and the dental health of children.
“Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it’s time for the NHS to practise what we preach. By ploughing the proceeds of any vendor fees back into staff health and patient charities these proposals are a genuine win-win opportunity to both improve health and cut future illness cost burdens for the NHS.”
Health charities welcomed the idea, unlike the soft drinks industry.
The aforementioned Partington continued with his arguments against the move.
“Sugar intake is down by over 17% since 2012. In 2015 we also became the only category to set a calorie reduction target of 20% by 2020. Given that the government is looking to introduce a soft drinks tax in 2018 it seems slightly odd that another public body wishes to duplicate this process.”
A sugar tax was previously repealed in Denmark after it failed to have a significantly positive impact.
The Danish government estimated that it was losing €38.9 million in VAT annually from illegal soft drink sales.
After 15 months the tax was abandoned, following surveys which suggested that only 7% of Danes had reduced their fat intake.
The tax was, however, blamed for 1,300 lost jobs as Danish shoppers crossed to Germany or Sweden.
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.
As a possible precursor to a wider introduction of a sugar tax, it has been announced that the NHS will introduce such a measure in its own hospitals and health centres.
Chief Executive Simon Stevens has stated that a 20% tax will be imposed on all sugary drinks and food in NHS cafes.
However, the timescale of changing attitudes on a wider level is underlined by the time that it will take to instigate this measure.
Stevens told The Guardian newspaper that this new taxation measure will only be introduced in 2020.
One is left to wonder when the problems with obesity will be addressed by some form of action in the wider society.
Nonetheless, despite the concerns that this is little more than a piecemeal measure, and one that is being implemented extremely slowly, Stevens was positive about the possibilities of this action.
He stated that the NHS’s 1.3 million staff had a “responsibility” to lead by example, and urged MPs to take similar action.
It must be questioned what sort of impact this measure would have, if indeed members of parliament paid heed to his call for a broader taxation aimed at the general public.
However, it is expected the NHS levy, which would initially only apply to sugary drinks, could raise £20m-£40m a year; so at least this can be viewed as a financial sweetener!
Again, it must be said in mitigation that the approximately £30 million that this will raise a year is an extremely miniscule figure when compared to the budget of the NHS as a whole, and the predicted deficits of the health service.
Despite scepticism, it is hoped by Stevens that the tax will discourage staff, patients and visitors from purchasing sugary and unhealthy items, while the money raised can at least be put to good use within the NHS.
Commenting on the issue, Stevens emphasised the moral role and the position of responsibility that the NHS should occupy.
“Because of the role that the NHS occupies in national life, all of us working in the NHS have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients, but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country. It’s not just the well-being of people in this country and our children. But it’s also the sustainability of the NHS itself.”
Research has suggested that sugar in food and drink is possibly the biggest contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United Kingdom, and indeed further afield as well.
There is clearly no easy answer to this problem, and no-one should realistically expect a sugar tax to solve anything, but at least some financial benefit can be found for the health service.
Figures released by the British Heart Foundation suggest that the number of UK adults living with diabetes has risen by more than 65 per cent in the last decade alone.
The organisation analysed GP data, and found that 3.5 million people were diagnosed with diabetes between 2014 and 2015.
By comparison, around 2 million people had been diagnosed with the condition back in 2004 and 2005.
It is estimated from the figures that people living with Type 2 diabetes, associated with unhealthy lifestyles and obesity, could be in excess of 3 million.
These latest figures are indicative of the diabetes academic that has been sweeping the Western world.
Although there are numerous factors contributing to this issue, not least sedentary lifestyles, the vast amount of sugar being consumed is considered to be a major contributor.
Processed food often contains large amounts of added sugar, with many people consuming quantities of which they are simply not aware.
Commenting on the research carried out by the British Heart Foundation, Doctor Richard Cubbon said: “We are currently unable to reverse blood vessel damage caused by diabetes. We’re studying a protein which could be involved in blood vessel repair, which could lead to new drugs that help prevent the deadly heart attacks and strokes associated with diabetes.”
The figures are a worrying precedent of the extent of the diabetes problem in the UK.
Ten years ago, it was considered extremely serious that in the region of 2 million people in Britain had been diagnosed with the condition.
At that time, a World Health Organisation report indicated that deaths due to diabetes in Britain could be expected to increase 25 per cent in the next decade.
In reality, this has turned out to be a gross under estimation, which suggests that the scale of the problem may accelerate still further in the future.
Confirming this trend, Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “The number of people with diabetes is rising at an alarming rate and every year there are more than 20,000 people who die tragically young as a result of the condition. Given the scale and the seriousness of the condition, it is vital that there is more research into better treatment and, ultimately, into finding a cure.”
Askew also mused on the scale of the problem.
“Diabetes remains one of the biggest health challenges of our time. We must protect the health of the nation by taking urgent steps to get to grips with it or we will continue to see more and more people dying before their time.”
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.”
As the debate over sugar and the proposed tax related to it continues, one famous figure has lent his support to the campaign.
The television chef Jamie Oliver has urged government ministers to introduce such a sugar tax on fizzy drinks.
Speaking to members of parliament at the House of Commons’ Health Committee, Oliver suggested that a tax would be the “single most important” change that could be made.
It is suggested that added sugar in food and drinks is one of the major contributors to the obesity epidemic worldwide.
This has seen the number of overweight people in the Western world in particular skyrocket in the last few decades.
According to official figures, over 60 per cent of adults in the United Kingdom are currently overweight, with approximately one-third being clinically obese.
Naturally this contributes to a wide variety of health problems, and is probably the single greatest factor in premature deaths in the United Kingdom.
It has been estimated by government sources that a 20 per cent sugar tax could raise as much as £1 billion per year.
Oliver suggested while speaking to MPs that the money raised could be shared between the NHS and primary school funding.
Commenting on the suggestion of the television chef, the Department of Health took a predictably neutral tone.
“The causes of obesity are complex, caused by a number of dietary, lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors, and tackling it will require a comprehensive and broad approach. As such, the government is considering a range of options for tackling childhood obesity,” a Department of Health spokesman stated.
While many experts support the idea of a sugar tax, there are certainly arguments against such a scheme.
Rather in common with the recent decision to charge 5p per plastic bag in large retail outlets, the scheme could simply be viewed as a money-spinning idea, with little or no practical benefits to the amount of sugar being consumed.
Ultimately, with a can of soda costing around 70p, even a 20 per cent tax would only necessitate a price rise of around 15p.
It is extremely doubtful that this would have a significant impact on the amount of sugary drinks that are actually consumed, just as charging 5p a carrier bag may have little or no impact on the amount of plastic bags utilised.
Regardless of the legitimacy or otherwise of taxing sugary drinks, there will certainly be a strong lobby against the idea.
The food industry is naturally an incredibly powerful entity, and lobbyists representing some of the more powerful corporations on the planet will doubtlessly argue strongly against the idea of taxing sugar.
Whether or not this will ultimately prove to be successful remains to be seen, but it certainly appears possible that we will see an increase in price of unhealthy beverages in the foreseeable future.