Health community celebrates
Chancellor Osborne’s budget has been met with great scepticism, not least of all from the number crunchers who have revealed it to be grossly unfair in robbing the poor to pay the rich. But one aspect of the UK government’s budget has received universal praise – a new sugar tax.
The so called sugar tax, to be introduced in April 2018, will target companies producing sugary drinks and is expected to raise £520 million in tax that could potentially be reinvested into an NHS struggling to foot the bill for Britain’s growing obesity epidemic.
Celebrity Chef, Jamie Oliver, who has been campaigning for the tax of sugary products, commented on his website saying:
"I would love the money to go to food education as well as sport but I think we have to applaud the Chancellor for taking this extremely important, bold step. I hope that this bravery will continue to form a part of this Government’s attitude to dealing with obesity and will influence the Prime Minister’s Childhood Obesity strategy later in the year."
Supporting Jamie Oliver’s position throughout has been Action on Sugar, a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair of Action on Sugar said:
"We are delighted to see in today’s budget announcement that the government will be introducing a new sugar levy on soft drinks which will be used to double the funding they dedicate to sport in every primary school. However, for this to be effective it’s imperative that the levy is at least 20% on all sugar-sweetened soft drinks and confectionary and escalate thereafter if companies do not comply to reformulation targets – and this must be implemented immediately."
Further taxation of the poorest?
Critics claim that it will target lower income families because drinks manufacturers could simply increase the price of drinks. A similar tax introduced in Mexico saw prices rise and the consumption of sugary drinks fall across all income brackets but particularly in lower income families, while sales of plain bottled water increased. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on Mexico’s obesity problem.
Canadean analyst, Fiona Baillie, explains:
“While Mexico has seen migration towards the packaged water category, and has seemingly prompted a similar trend in neighbouring countries, there has also been social outcry that the tax affects the poorest, with many seeing it as an infringement on their daily lives.
With a link between lower income consumers and high sugar intake in the UK, the tax may face similar criticisms. However, it is worth noting that the UK has seen larger declines in carbonates than Mexico since the introduction of the Mexican sugar tax, showing that it is currently a decline driven by consumer choice and therefore less likely to prompt such an outcry.”
It has been argued that reformulating and reducing pack sizes will be more effective in tackling obesity than a sugar tax. However, it may require a more visible, media-orientated approach to really kick-start a nationwide reduction in soft drink sugar consumption.”
The sugar tax represents a golden opportunity to ween the nation off of its addiction to sugar and clear space in the market for healthier drink options to flourish. Focusing on the health of kids, Paula Moynihan, Professor of Nutrition and Oral Health at Newcastle University, has comments:
"Sugared drinks are the largest source of sugar in the diets of children in the UK and we know that current high sugar intakes are contributing to obesity and tooth decay. Our research has revealed that when less than 5 per cent of calories in the diet come from free sugars, there are much lower levels of tooth decay. The announcement by George Osborne to introduce a tax on sugared soft drinks is a welcome step towards tackling childhood obesity and lowering the amount of sugar consumed in drinks. Evidence from other countries where a tax on sugared drinks has been introduced indicates taxing is effective in reducing the amount purchased and it is now up to the rest of the world to follow the example being set by the UK and others to tackle obesity and other conditions linked to sugars such as tooth decay on a global scale."