Health Committee MPs back controversial sugar tax plans

Sugar Tax

A 20% 'sugar tax' should be introduced as part of a “bold and urgent” set of measures to combat the growing problem of child obesity, says a House of Commons Health Committee report.

The cross-party group of 11 MPs say there is “compelling evidence” to suggest such a tax would curb consumption while raising extra revenue to help deal with the issue.

Its report Childhood Obesity - Brave and Bold Action also recommends revised guidelines relating to television advertising directed at children and screened before the watershed as well as other forms of marketing, such as the use of cartoon characters on packaging designed to appeal to children.

It also examines the case for the introduction of a series of other possible measures including a crackdown on supermarket promotions on unhealthy food and drink, the gradual reformulation of foods using reduced sugar and sugar replacements and clearer labelling on packaging, such as sugar quantities given in teaspoons.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last month that he opposed the introduction of a sugar tax, even though a Public Health England report examining the evidence to date from appeared to support the case for the introduction of a sugar tax.

The PHE report revealed that 25% of adults, 10% of 4 and 5 year-olds and 19% of 10 to 11 year-olds are obese – with a BMI of 30 or above - which experts have described as a “time bomb” of preventable health conditions. Millions more children and adults are classed as overweight, with a BMI of between 25 and 30.

PHE says dealing with the consequences of obesity, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular problems and cancer costs the NHS £5.1 billion a year.

Clear solution?

The committee's report acknowledges that while no single measure will provide a clear solution to the problem, the argument in favour of introducing a sugar tax could not be ignored. It highlights the example of Mexico, which introduced a 10% tax on sugary drinks which yielded a 6% reduction in consumption.

Dr Ian Johnson, Emeritus Fellow at the Institute of Food Research, says of the report: “This is a comprehensive and well-argued report that builds upon this year’s previous publications from SACN and Public Health England. It provides a compelling case for a range of measures designed to encourage the adoption of healthier dietary patterns in the UK, with a view to reducing the long-term risk of obesity-related diseases.

“Speaking personally, I would strongly support the introduction of a hypothecated tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, provided that it is accompanied by measures to enable a proper evidence-based assessment of its effectiveness.”

Fizzy Drinks

Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright describes the committee's report as "disappointing".

"No-one seems to have considered hard-pressed consumers in all this. Consumers already pay billions in VAT on food and drink," he says. “As a result of the arbitrary new tax recommended by the Committee, which, if introduced, would inevitably be increased year-on-year and extended to other foods, would leave consumers paying significantly more, every week, for the products they love.

“FDF, its members and the 400,000 people who work in the UK's food and drink industry, will continue to work to reduce the incidence of obesity. We believe that that end would be best and most swiftly achieved not through additional government-imposed regulation but instead through an accountable industry partnership with Government that drives behaviour change, builds on the progress made on reformulating products and changing pack sizes and which goes further in preventing advertising for foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar being aimed at children.”

“Turning the tide on childhood obesity”

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison says: "This government is committed to turning the tide on childhood obesity. That is why we are developing a comprehensive strategy looking at all the factors, including sugar consumption, that contribute to a child becoming overweight and obese. This will be published in the coming months."

How much sugar should I be consuming?

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), who advise the government, say no more than 5% of daily calories should come from sugar. This amount includes sugar contained naturally in the food and drink we consume each day, and not just added sugar.

This is equivalent to 25g - around six teaspoons- for the average adult, less for children. To put this amount into context, one full-sugar 330ml can of soft drink contains around nine teaspoons of sugar.

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