Sugar tax may be necessary, England's chief medical officer says

Sugar cubes

Related Stories

A sugar tax may have to be introduced to curb obesity rates, the chief medical officer for England has said.

Dame Sally Davies told a committee of MPs that unless the government was strong with food and drink manufacturers, it was unlikely they would reformulate their products.

She said she believed "research will find sugar is addictive", and that "we may need to introduce a sugar tax".

The food industry said it was working on reducing sugar in products.

Speaking to the health select committee, Dame Sally said: "We have a generation of children who, because they're overweight and their lack of activity, may well not live as long as my generation.

"They will be the first generation that live less, and that is of great concern."

Education urged

She said being overweight had been "normalised", adding: "I worry that we have re-sized a women's dress size so that a size 14 now was a size 12 when I was student.

"We have to find a new way - not of ostracising people who are obese and making them feel bad about themselves - but somehow of helping them to understand this is pathological and will cause them harm."

She said she thought researchers would find that sugars were addictive, and the public needed to have "a big education" over how "calorie packed" some smoothies, fruit juices and carbonated drinks were.

In November, the president of Coca-cola Europe was challenged on Newsnight about the amount of sugar in its drinks

She said: "People need to know one's fine, but not lots of them.

"We may need to move towards some form of sugar tax, but I hope we don't have to."

Earlier this year, doctors called for a soft drinks tax to reduce sugar intake.

Popular soft drinks lined up with the amount of sugar they contain stacked next to them in sugar cubes Milkshakes, cola drinks, some brands of fruit-flavoured water, energy drinks and fruit juices contain more sugar than many people think
'Voluntary pledges'

The charity Sustain, which advises the government on the food and farming industry, says the UK consumes more than 5,727 million litres of sugary soft drinks a year. Adding a 20p tax for every litre sold would raise more than £1.1bn.

The Department of Health already has a "responsibility deal", which is a series of voluntary pledges by industry designed to tackle issues such as obesity.

Facts about sugar

  • Evidence shows most adults and children in the UK eat more sugar than is recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet
  • Food and drinks that have a lot of added sugar contain calories, but often have few other nutrients
  • Sugary foods and drinks can also cause tooth decay, especially eaten between meals
  • Sugar found naturally in whole fruit is less likely to cause tooth decay than juices or blends because the sugar is contained within the body of the fruit
  • Source: NHS Choices

Much of the focus of those pledges is on reducing salt and calorie count rather than sugar per se.

And ministers are also pushing ahead with front-of-pack labelling, which includes information about sugar, but again, this will be voluntary.

Front-and-back labelling will include a combination of colour coding and nutritional information that will be used to show how much fat, salt and sugar and how many calories are in each product.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "To help the nation to be healthier by eating fewer calories, including sugar, we are working with industry through the Responsibility Deal.

"This work has already delivered results but we have always been clear that, if food and drink companies fail to act, we will look at other options and are keeping all international evidence under review."

Terry Jones, of the Food and Drink Federation, said any extra tax on sugar would "hit the poorest families hardest at a time when they can least afford it."

Sugar content was already clearly labelled among products' ingredients, Mr Jones said.

He said: "Food and drink producers in the UK have taken action to reduce salt and saturated fat in the diet, in line with robust evidence linking excessive consumption of these nutrients with a negative impact on health."

Prof Barry Everitt, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, said pinning down whether sugar was actually addictive was a complex matter.

He said sugar - and fats - did impact on the chemistry of the brain's reward circuits - but in a much smaller way than drugs such as cocaine.

He said: "The important issue is that some individuals lose control over their food, especially sugar (and junk or fat-rich) food. This small sub-group might, then be viewed as 'addicted', but it may also be discovered that the loss of control in this sub-group might have a predisposing condition.

"The message that 'we'd better watch out for this sugar stuff is misleading', as far as I am concerned, because it suggests if you eat it you risk becoming addicted and the evidence does not support that."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    How about a "pretentiousness tax" on city dwellers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    Rather than make healthy food cheaper or more convenient they want to charge for the rest?

    Apple juice is 12% sugar, but they don't provide that in vending machines so I guess they won't be charging...

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    Part of the problem is that there is no longer a clear consensus of opinion regarding what is or is not a healthy diet... but that's a good thing as the last one - all calories are created equal - appears to be horsedroppings. The blame for fatness is swinging back to the sweets and carbs that we thought were responsible for it in the seventies ... before everyone was enormous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    Total scam. And where will this money go? Certainly not back into any health budgets. If a coke contains 23 sachets of sugar, just tell people on the can, for goodness sake. No one has a clue what levels they are consuming. Go after food manufactures and stop taxing the poor, you idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    I think people exercise far more than when I was a kid (70s).

    More people run, cycle, go to gyms.

    People didn't used to do those things.

    The milk was full fat or even gold top. people used lard instead of vegetable oil. Even putting beef dripping on bread.

    Food was fried rather than grilled. Sweets and biscuits were larger, although perhaps I was smaller.

    So why are we fatter these days?

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    The Chief Medical Officer must inhabit a strange world where the public are subhuman animals to be prescribed to and instructed in what they can and cannot do. It's always a TAX these idiots propose. High handed one dimensional thinking from the Medico elite - as always.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    Some of these stories are not even worth reading. Talk about scrapping the barrel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    World market price of sugar is 29p a kilo, EU protection means we pay 88p a kilo. This suggests that we pay a tax already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    Does anybody think they might spend the sugar tax on NHS dentists? Of course they won't. The few NHS dentists that do exist aren't really NHS because you have to pay. I would actually support this if all the generated taxes went towards making dentistry free. Otherwise it's absolutely ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    I actually agree with this proposal. Sugar and especially High Fructose syrups and indeed anything that contains cheap sugar syrup substitute is nothing but a legal, addictive drug which does cause withdrawal and in my opinion is one of the major contributors to obesity. Food manufacturers have gotten away with it for years and now its time to put them in their place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    It seems that every week some ill-conceived claptrap appears from the face-hole of some over-privileged chunderbeltcher. Tax sugar? Some idea, seeing as it has had a positive effect on such other vices as alcohol and fags. Tax and prohibition do not work, as is evidenced by history and reality; which is that they keep you dumb, fat and drunk, i.e. placid, on purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    Now do I put taxed sugar on my porridge and worry about my waistline, or revert to my childhood Irish (and Scottish) ways, put salt on it, and worry about my blood pressure?

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    In what real way does taxing food make those who over indulge on the "wrong foods" stop them? Education would be a better way of reducing the effects of obesity and poor diets. Taxation just costs ALL of us more money for the food we eat regardless of what shape our bodies are in. All this idea does is make food too expensive for the poor... ah there it is! hahaha

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    So when's the tax on air due?

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    No food cause obesity as such, it's the amount people eat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    As a drinker and smoker, I don't mind paying high tax on these products. The government has to raise tax somehow. Same with sugar (which I don't use to excess). Now quite why they have to take such a large wodge of my cash in income tax is beyond me - to the extent that I will vote for any party that promises to introduce a flat rate of income tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    How about higher taxes on gambling, after all, that is a habit that is bad for your wallet and health. What about even higher taxes on junk food sellers, again, bad for your health. Where will this end?

  • Comment number 422.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    Can't people just control themselves??? I'm sure a little sugar in the diet does no harm, as with most things, it's fine in moderation. And which particular kind of sugar is going to be taxed? Will fructose be taxed too? Taxes on eating apples and bananas surely don't encourage healthy eating. Lactose? All seems a bit silly to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Dave is trying to provide the sweetener of a tax cut just so that he can take it back with a sugar tax !.


Page 51 of 72


More Health stories


Features & Analysis

BBC Future

(Caitlin McNeill)

Do we all see the same colours?

Intriguing science behind #TheDress


  • 3D model of Christ the Redeemer statueClick Watch

    Using drones to 3D map the famous Brazilian landmark Christ the Redeemer

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.