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 1359.

    I prefer to cook from scratch, but unfortunately when I get in from work (often between 2000 and 2100) I don't have the time - or the energy - to do so, so it's a case of just grab a sandwich. I think a lot of the causes of obesity are what we eat and how we eat. Most people don't eat sitting at a table and they don't eat proper meals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1358.

    1334. jimbob9876 "Why should I pay a sugar tax. I keep myself very active and burn off a lot of calories as I generally run around 20 miles a week. Are my energy gels going to be taxed even though I live a healthy lifestyle?"
    You probably burn under 150 kcal per mile. How many kcals do you consume from energy gels?

    Exercise is for health, not weight control. I wish people would understand this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1357.

    14 Minutes ago
    Are well evolved to consume large volumes of sugar? No. Are we evolved to crave it ? -possibly.


    The sweet taste tells us that it provides energy which we can lay down in fat for future needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1356.

    Well, its worth taxing Sugar, Saturated Fat and particularly Palm Oil. The latter is the largest contributor to the destruction of the rain forest, without which runway global warming is a very real possibility

  • rate this

    Comment number 1355.

    You could just make your own prawn salad...
    Bag of frozen prawns: per 100g:
    15g protein
    carbohydrate Nil
    Fat 1g (of which 0.2g saturates)
    Fat nil
    Sodium .6g (salt equivalent 1.5g)
    Now add in the lettuce, tomatoes etc and you too could get to 440 cals if you add some mayo & salt won't be much different.
    2.8g salt is hardly 'a salt cellar's worth'

  • rate this

    Comment number 1354.

    Our "obesity problem" is primarily down to portion size.

    Not true, its more complex. Calorie density, unnatural mixtures (eg fat and sugar) and preservatives cause appitite modification.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1353.

    People should eat what they want without the busy body,s telling them what they should eat. If they want to be obese, then let them, and has for taxing sugar, this will be passed onto the consumer when buying cakes and other items from the confectionery,s. Just another ploy to extract more from the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1352.

    Are well evolved to consume large volumes of sugar? No. Are we evolved to crave it ? -possibly. Are food manufactures putting increasing amounts of sugar into food where once it wasn't present to cover the bland taste of processed food -yes. Can we solve this problem by simply telling people to eat less sugar -unlikely Is this an increasingly costly problem - yes

  • rate this

    Comment number 1351.

    As Katie Hopkins put it recently, "If YOU can't be bothered looking after your health, why should I ?". She's right. Sugar...obesity...lasting and various health issues....and it's the NHS that is expected to treat, nay cure. No, the only cure is self-determination. The NHS was designed for curing broken legs...not obesity. The fat-folks need to get a grip.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1350.

    another regressive tax. Taxes at sales shift the tax burden further and further on to those least able to afford them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1349.

    It is not so simple just to say "make fruit and veg cheaper". Already the fruit and veg suppliers are at the mercy of the big 4 supermarkets who dictate what prices they pay,and if the supplier doesn't like it then they go elsewhere (or supplier has no choice as they are under contract).The only solution to the problem is if we stop buying cheap rubbish food, but that of course requires education

  • rate this

    Comment number 1348.

    Sorry, but you are wrong! The numbers have shot up.
    We mustn't say how it is now - well I for one, and there are plenty of others who are sick of pandering to those who won't help themselves.
    "You are fat - stop feeding your face!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1347.

    1 Minute ago
    "where does the majority of stock in Aldi come from..?"
    Recent purchases of carrots, potatoes, leeks, swede & celery from Aldi were all British. majority of fresh meat is British.


    Tonight's Leek and Potato soup will use British products from Aldi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1346.

    "where does the majority of stock in Aldi come from..?"
    Recent purchases of carrots, potatoes, leeks, swede & celery from Aldi were all British. majority of fresh meat is British.
    Yes, they have produce from other countries, but I guess that when Waitrose or M&S have asparagus or strawberries on sale at Xmas that they're not sourcing them from Britain either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1345.

    There have always been fat people, I don't recall less fat in the 60's, 70's etc. People were pretty chunky. Now we talk about it more, blame people more, insult them more. Next some minister will talk about the 'deserving fat' and the 'underserving fat'. If we stop eating choc. will the world be a better place? I vote for a Minister of Tolerance to deal with those who come up with this tosh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1344.

    We need an expert to tell us what would be obvious to a 7 year old,yet he forget to mention other things that are just as obvious.OK,let's tax sugar,but how about making life a bit harder for Mr McDonald and his colleagues as well?And trying to reduce the staggering prices of fruit and vegs?Tomatoes up to 8-9 £ per kg,1 £ for one aubergine?Care to compare these prices with any other EU country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1343.

    One club golfing again. Why not just ensure that Organic & fresh food, particularly fruit & veg are reasonably priced and supermarkets dont make excess profits on them. People eat junk food due to price and lack of time due to long working day & poor transport to & from work -do something about those -lets have a society not based on profit, money & greed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1342.

    A tax on sugar in foods etc is not the answer.
    The answer is to ban sugar being added to foodstuffs in the first place AND salt AND fats.
    For Gods sake, They are killing us and we allow it!
    Tesco has a Prawn salad - with 2.8g of salt in the tub (1.4g per HALF tub) - WHY???
    its also 440 cals per HALF tub - added fat and added sugar.
    its a Prawn salad!!
    Thats a salt cellar full in one meal!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1341.

    Is Dame Sally trying to destroy Cinemas?

    As if popcorn & pick'n'mix isn't expensive enough when you go to the flicks!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1340.

    If a sugar tax does come along then the only people who will be able to afford to overdose on sugary foods will be the richer people within society but will hit the poorest families the most!

    Yes, there is too much sugar in a lot of foods and the health issues that come about are not to be underestimated but surely the answer is not to tax everything that is "bad for you" / enjoyable.


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