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 999.

    Only the other day a TED talk exposed the myth of dieting - that your body knows your nominal weight, and dieting actually runs the risk of doing more harm in the long run by affecting that systemic awareness. By far the best thing you can do is eat and drink as and when you need to. This tax is a typical, frivolous effort at best, and have to agree with 146 that wholesome food is your best bet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 998.

    I'm a highly fit individual. I train regularly, play sports almost daily and try to eat well. When the cost of healthy treats and snacks falls to a level that is acceptable then I'd consider an alternative! However to be charged a higher rate and be punished because people in general are too god damned lazy to look after themselves? I work 50+ hours per week, if I can exercise so can anyone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 997.

    You can't just tax everything you don't like. The cost of living is high enough as it is. Also here is nothing wrong with sugar, just as there is nothing wrong with fat. All that's wrong is the quantities that people eat it in. Teaching people to cook, showing how you can make good food easily and cheaply is what's needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 996.

    No, car accidents are just that - accidents. No one has them on purpose. People who catch AIDS do not do so on purpose But people who consume 5000 calories a day of fizzy drinks are not doing it by accident. They know exactly what they are doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 995.

    I wonder if it will be as effective as the tax on smoking and alcohol? i.e just a new tax to fund headline tax cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 994.

    I propose a tax on idiotic advice - we will then eliminate the budget deficit within 1 year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 993.

    Just have a 'Fatties' Tax then, so only those affected pay by weight.
    Or am I missing the point, and it's just yet another ill-concealed ruse by government to fleece all of us?
    You know, like VAT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 992.

    I'd hazard a guess there is the same level of sugar in a Coke today as there was in the 50s or 60s, for example. The key difference is in levels of physical activity that accompany the consumption of same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 991.

    I actually agree with this proposal....Food manufacturers have gotten away with it for years...its time to put them in their place.
    How is charging us more for food putting manufacturers in their place? Unless a law is brought in to ensure that they don't pass the tax on to the consumer, it's us who will end up paying more, not them. It won't affect them at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 990.

    Ban adverts that promote sugary drinks as healthy, sporty or just the latest cool thing in the same way that they banned alcohol and tobacco over the years.

    After the war sugar remained on rationing because ministers feared for peoples health it was eventually taken of the ration books because of pressure from the sweet companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 989.

    Sugar, I will have to get my dougnuts from the guy who sells the contraband cigarettes around the corner.

    Im sure if the NHS started charging people to treat self inflicted health problems, then your issues might start to dissapear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 988.

    The food industry has and always will be treated with kid gloves as this industry has a very powerful lobbying group and is the reason why food labelling is voluntary and unclear.
    There have been many documentaries indicating the health risks of sugar and fat,particularly a 50:50 combination of these but I suspect nothing will be achieved while the industry has the power.
    Money talks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 987.

    I agree with the concerns raised by Dame Sally Davies. The use of sugar in the food industry is extremely harmful to public health. The sugar industry try to argue that sugar is a "natural product." Are they deluded/stupid or nasty greedy people you do not care about the harm they cause?

  • rate this

    Comment number 986.

    One word... RIDICULOUS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 985.

    @974 If we apply your logic to things then we are down the path of taxing everything because of cost to the NHS. That is madness. All car owners taxed more because of expensive accident surgeries. The list is endless.
    You said " People who didn't bring their illness on themselves should be treated instead" - so I take it many people with AIDS should be not be treated?
    Liberty is more valuable !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 984.


    I am with you on that one. My drive to work increases by 30 minutes during term time!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 983.

    I'm 45 is old.. I remember at a young age eating drinking lots of sugary things and I was never Fat because I did a thing called exercise. Strange concept now days! My kids eat sugary things, I like sugary things why should I pay extra because of other peoples overindulgence and lack of fitness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 982.


  • rate this

    Comment number 981.

    What, in the same way that we tax fags and booze?

    The only benefit here is to the exchequer.

    They know full well that demand is not sensitive to price when it comes to addiction.

    It’s the golden goose that never stops giving.

    “Let’s see how many more golden geese we can make”

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    How long before someone wants to tax you for breathing?


Page 23 of 72


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