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

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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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    The Chinese have shown D-Galactose a monosaccharide sugar that is less sweet than glucose accelerates the aging process in mice. No study has been done to see if the effect is the same in humans!

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Why should big business be allowed to get away with selling 'food' which is so demonstrably bad for us? Since high sugar foods entered our diet, people have become obese. It's no good saying that people have a choice: advertising fixes these foods uppermost in our minds. And anyway, the poor have no choice when it comes to food - they have to eat the cheapest (sugary, fatty food) or go without.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    @444 HW19
    "Why don't they TAX stupid inane comments from MPs and the like"

    The national debt would be paid off in no time.

  • Comment number 456.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    The largest coke at the cinema contains the equivalent of 48 teaspoons of sugar!

    No wonder people are getting fat - hidden sugars in these canned fizzy drinks are a serious threat to health and vreating a diabetes-timebomb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Why don't they make it compulsory for overweight people who hit a certain weight to take out health insurance and leave the rest of us alone who subscribe to an healthy diet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    Salmond will be livid that we will therefore be increasing the price of deep fried Mars bars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    tax sugar to help control obesity, or tax sugar because government need to get more tax from working people, sometimes you just cant believe how stupid politicians think we are

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    So you'll give us tax cuts for cutting our services but then take some of this money in a sugar tax...I hope spend the extra money wisely on food banks or somthing if they implement this. Anyway it's a mix of fat and sugar which is so addictive and makes people obese.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Another day, another doozy from a bunch of people desperately trying to justify their existance and the big fat pay-packet that goes with it

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    I would normally oppose any new tax, but in this case I'm not so sure. Smoking, universally recognised as harmful to health is highly taxed, excess sugar is the leading cause of obesity and is injurious to health, why shouldn't that be taxed also. I also think allowing a child to become obese through eating junk food is tanatamount to child abuse!

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    The food industry cannot be trusted to produce food which is both nutritional nor addictive - they have proved their irresponsibility for many years, so unfortunately have to be heavily regulated and controlled. The Food Standards Agency seems pretty useless. Bring in measures which closely control foods and labelling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    In the scheme of things definitely better to take your chances with sugar than the sweeteners. There is ground swell of opinion that's putting sweeteners in the frame for some diseases. It maybe a unintended consequence that we start to eat more of these bogus chemicals.

    I take my chances with sugar, don't eat too much of it or anything else for that matter. But shouldn't you know this by now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    A tax on product sales such as VAT and duty is cheaper for a government to collect as it is the seller that does all the work. Cue amazon to set up a Channel Islands Sugar distribution centre to flood the UK with duty-free sweet cr4p!
    Kids don't as parents are frightened to let them play in the street due to dodgy blokes and speeding cars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    This is not a wise idea. All it will do, is have food manufacturers look at sugar alternatives (such as fructose) to get past the tax. And these can be just as damaging...if not worse

    The BBC documentary 'The Men Who Made Us Fat' investigates this in the US and its links to obesity in America

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    Why dont they TAX stupid inane comments from MP's and the like?

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    "SWEET" :)

    She said she believes "the research will find sugar is addictive" and that "we may need to introduce a sugar tax"

    Sex can also be addictive (ask several celebs) - so best you act now before that get's taxed too! She went on:

    "We have normalised being overweight." - So don't tax Sugar - Tax overeightedness!

    Also let's tax Government - we have far too much of that and its BAD for us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    This article is so very short and bereft of detail it's hardly a basis to make an opinion on.

    Who exactly is it proposed that could be taxed? The public, or the companies?

    If company profits are to be taxed, unless they become more responsible, then fine, I suppose. If it's the public being slapped on the wrist for being naughty boys and girls, then no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    Do home brewers get a rebate when they convert the sugar to alcohol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    "Normalised being overweight?!" Well yes, only because the loony lefties have made it an offence to call someone what they are - fat. There used to be stigma associated with being fat, unemployed, a criminal, single mother, etc..., all form the loony bleeding heart brigade. With removal of the stigmatism there has been an explosion in all areas. This nation is in a severe decline.


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