Sugar tax - will it unintentionally penalise diabetics?

Photo of Yvette with bottles of Lucozade Image copyright Chris Loukes
Image caption Yvette Loukes has type 1 diabetes and carries Lucozade with her everywhere she goes in case her blood sugar levels drop

Parents of teenagers with type 1 diabetes say George Osborne's plan to raise the cost of sugary drinks will have an unintentional impact on their families.

On Wednesday the chancellor unveiled plans to tax soft drinks manufacturers who put large amounts of sugar in their products.

But people with type 1 diabetes say sugary drinks like Lucozade are a necessity and not a luxury that should be taxed.

'We spend a fair amount of money on sport drinks'

Chris Loukas from Urmston in Trafford, Greater Manchester, says his teenage daughter Yvette is sporty, fit and healthy. She manages her type 1 diabetes with energy drinks that contain sugar .

Image copyright James Lester

"Yvette was diagnosed at the age of four. As a family, we spend a fair amount of money on Lucozade energy and sport drinks. Not all kids who regularly consume expensive sugary drinks are lazy, overweight slobs," Chris says.

"My daughter is very fit, she plays football and has played sport at high levels for the last 10 years."

'This sugar tax is just another kick in the teeth'

Supporters of the sugar tax, including Jamie Oliver, believe it will help tackle child obesity.

But Chris says it's unfair and could end up putting an unnecessary burden on the NHS.

"People with coeliac disease can get prescriptions for gluten-free foods. Parents strapped for cash might ask to get Lucozade on prescription in the future.

"I am willing to pay for the Lucozade my daughter drinks but this sugar tax is just another kick in the teeth and I'm concerned it will put pressure on our already-stretched NHS."

Image copyright James Lester
Image caption Yvette wants to play football professionally one day and is determined that her condition will not hold her back

Yvette, 17, plays for Manchester United under-17s ladies football team, who have reached their first-ever FA Youth Cup final where they face Arsenal next month.

'I feel faint, like I am going to collapse. It's scary'

She always has a bottle of Lucozade to hand in case her blood sugar levels drop, something that happens a few times a week.

The family say they have begun stocking up on the glucose drink before the sugar tax takes effect from 2018 .

"If I don't drink Lucozade I feel faint, like I am going to collapse. It's scary," Yvette says.

"I love playing football, I want to play the sport professionally one day and I wont let my diabetes hold me back.

"My hero is Sir Steve Redgrave because he also has diabetes but he hasn't let it affect him.

"He is a great inspiration to me."

Image copyright Chris Loukes
Image caption Yvette Loukes: "I had this picture taken with my hero Sir Steve Redgrave a few years ago"

Sugar tax exemption card

Chris says the family are doing all they can to maximise Yvette's performance on the pitch and he has a suggestion for Chancellor George Osborne to consider.

"Maybe the government should consider providing type 1 diabetics, whose condition is seldom caused by poor lifestyle choices, some sort of sugary drink tax exemption card.

"Type 1 sufferers who play sport like my daughter, at the very highest level, at least must be worthy of such consideration."

Diabetes: type 1 v type 2

  • Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels, because of problems with the hormone insulin
  • In type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to produce any insulin
  • In type 2 diabetes, not enough insulin is produced or the insulin that is made by the body doesn't work properly

Living with type 1 diabetes

Diabetes explained

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said "We fully understand that some people are very concerned about the sugar tax announcement.

"We know that people living with type 1 diabetes, which is not linked to lifestyle and cannot be prevented, use sugar-sweetened drinks to treat low blood glucose levels and some people with type 2 diabetes also rely on high sugar products in the management of their diabetes.

"This is why the measure should be introduced in a way that doesn't adversely impact on the way people manage their condition."

'Keeping my son alive got a lot more expensive'

The Loukes family's concerns are not isolated. Kate Stephen's son has type 1 diabetes.

"To stop my son going into a hypoglycaemic coma, he uses Lucozade to bring his blood glucose levels up," she says.

"The sugar tax will mean keeping my son alive just got a lot more expensive. We need to stop blaming the drinks."

Lindsey Houghton's 11-year-old son also has the condition.

"If his blood sugars fall too low we have to treat it with drinks like Lucozade. We use this as it's the fastest way for a body to absorb sugar," she says.

"Maybe we could use Coca-Cola instead, oh that's right that's going to be taxed too."

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