A 20% tax on sugary drinks should be used to subsidise the sales of fruit and vegetables and help tackle the UK’s chronic obesity and diet-related health problems, according to leading doctors writing in the BMA today (July 13).
More than a third of Brits will be obese by 2030, the ‘Food for Thought’ report claimed and highlighed the need for dramatic action, such as a tax, to promote healthier diets among Brits.
But, burdening the industry with a heavy tax was not the answer, industry leaders have warned. More product reformulation and better dietary advice would be a better solution, they added.
Food and drink manufacturers had already done a lot to make products healthier, Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright said.
‘Already taxed at 20%’
Against a sugar tax:
“By contrast, the efforts of soft drinks companies including product reformulation, smaller pack sizes and increased promotion of low and no calorie drinks have led to a 7% reduction in calories from soft drinks in the past three years.”
- Source: British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington
“Many food and drinks are already taxed at 20%. Where additional taxes have been introduced they’ve not proven effective at driving long-term, lasting change to diets,” he said.
“British food and drink companies are cutting the salt, saturates and calories in their products, which are offered in a range of portion sizes,” Wright added. “They have virtually eliminated trans fats in UK products.”
Taxes on sugary soft drinks had not changed consumers’ diets in other countries, argued British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington.
A similar tax in Mexico had reduced the average calorie intake by just six calories per person per day, he said.
“By contrast, the efforts of soft drinks companies including product reformulation, smaller pack sizes and increased promotion of low and no calorie drinks have led to a 7% reduction in calories from soft drinks in the past three years,” Partington added.
Despite the industry’s work to make products healthier, the BMA has called for more action to be taken.
Causing 70,000 deaths a year
Poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles were costing the National Health Service £6bn annually and causing 70,000 deaths a year, BMA board of science chair Professor Sheila Hollins said.
For a sugar tax:
“This is an important way to help redress the imbalance highlighted between the cost of health and unhealthy products, which impacts on individuals and families affected by food poverty.”
- Source: BMA board of science chair Professor Sheila Hollins
Some soft drinks were contributing too many calories to people’s diets, while providing them with little nutrition, which was worrying, she added.
A tax on sugary drinks was the best action the government could take and would reduce the prevalence of obesity in 180,000 Brits.
“This is an important way to help redress the imbalance highlighted between the cost of health and unhealthy products, which impacts on individuals and families affected by food poverty,” Hollins said.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister David Cameron will take charge of combatting the UK’s obesity epidemic, following reports that government advisors are expected to recommend that the consumption of sugar is halved to 5% of energy intake.
Cameron is expected to follow the advice of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s working group on carbohydrates report, which is to be published this week.