Sunday, April 24, 2016
Over the years, the British public has been bombarded with sometimes conflicting and confusing health and nutrition advice. From salt to fat, carbohydrates to red meat, there is always something which we are warned will foreshorten our lives. The bad guy du jour is now sugar.
In an attempt to tackle the burgeoning obesity crisis, the government has bowed to pressure. Following a high profile campaign, notably fronted by chef Jamie Oliver, you may be aware that the government has plans to introduce a sugar tax.
The announcement of this tax has ignited a fierce debate, with some campaigners hailing the tax as a victory and opponents of the tax questioning any potential effectiveness.
In the short term, the new tax will be aimed only at fizzy drinks which contain high sugar volumes. These are largely popular with children and teenagers who are thought to be most at risk from the ill effects of consuming large amounts of sugar. The intention is to tax companies according to the volume of sugary drinks produced or imported. Under the sugar tax, there will be two separate tax bands.
The first is for drinks with a sugar content of 5g per 100 millilitres and above. The second is a higher band for drinks containing 8g per millilitres and above. It is thought that the tax will stand at, respectively, 18p and 24p per litre. Thus, the tax will add around 8p to a can of Coca-Cola.
Drinks that will fall into the higher tax band will include Coca-Cola, Ribena, Pepsi, Irn-Bru and Lucozade. Those who fall into the lower band will include Sprite, Dr Pepper, Indian Tonic Water and alcohol-free Shandy.
The confusion arises, however, from the fact that drinks like flavoured milk, fruit smoothies and pure fruit juices are to be exempt from the tax, as are the smallest drinks producers. Chocolate and cakes are also to be exempt from the tax because these items are considered to be occasional treats, rather than everyday consumables.
The Chancellor expects to raise around £520 million a year from the sugar tax and has said that this money is to be spent on increasing the provision of sports in primary schools in England.
It is said that many of us are ‘addicted’ to sugar. Different percentage figures are regularly bandied around concerning how much sugar is consumed by the individual as against how much of it we should stick to. In 2014, the World Health Organisation recommended that sugar intake should be below 10% of total daily calorie intake to eventually halve the target. This limit is intended to apply to all sugars which are added to food as well as natural sugars like honey, syrups and fruit juices.
It is widely acknowledged that too much sugar, of any kind, can lead to a variety of health issues, not least among them being excessive weight gain.
Childhood obesity, in particular, is said to be a primary cause of later-life complications like Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. Type 2 Diabetes can lead to additional complications like loss of eyesight and lower limb amputation, as well as the necessitation for lifelong medication. Too much sugar can also, of course, be a massive cause of tooth decay and loss of teeth.
The costs of dealing with the results of the nation’s love for all things sugary, together with ballooning future cost estimations, are incalculable. This is why it is essential to get to grips with the issue now and target children who will be the biggest beneficiaries of a healthier diet.
The government’s Change4Life campaign revealed that 4 to 10-year-olds in the UK consume on average 22kg of sugar per year. The UK’s children and teenagers are the largest consumers of sugary drinks and get most of their sugar intake from these.
Mexico introduced a similar tax in 2014 which targeted all kinds of sugar in drinks including artificial sweeteners. Results so far appear to have shown a modest reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks.
So it seems that anything which can do the same for our children can only reap future benefits in terms of general health and medical care costs.
There’s no doubt though that the rise of junk food and highly processed food has also played a part in the obesity crisis, so maybe it could be the time to consider taxing this too.
All in all, knowing that we will have to pay more for our sugary drinks may be the first step in helping us to reduce the amount we drink in a day. Or, why not, this law may even help us make better decisions about the health of our bodies.