NHS to impose hospital sugar tax

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Obesity: Stevens believes mandatory reformulation is the best way to combat the crisis
Obesity: Stevens believes mandatory reformulation is the best way to combat the crisis

Related tags: sugar tax, Nutrition

The National Health Service (NHS) plans to introduce a sugar tax in its hospitals in an attempt to help combat the UK’s obesity crisis.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens told The Guardian ​that he wanted to introduce a 20% levy on sugary foods and snacks.

However, he said a rolling programme of mandatory reformulation of food and drink products was a more important long-term solution to the obesity problem. Stevens added that this shouldn’t be done overnight, but on a “phased basis”.

Stevens also criticised retailers for two-for-one deals on cakes, biscuits and sweets, and the positioning of snacks close to checkouts.

According to Stevens, the NHS will increase the cost of high-sugar drinks and snacks sold in cafés and vending machines across hundreds of acute, mental health and community services hospitals by 2020, as well as in every local health centre.

Windfall return

The move is expected generate a windfall of £20M​£40M a year. It will make the NHS the first public body in the UK to bring in a sugar tax.

Stevens said: “The NHS has a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients but also to draw attention to, and make the case for, some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country.

“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar-added foods, which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years on a rolling basis.”

He added: “By 2020, we’ve either got these practices out of hospitals or we’ve got the equipment of a sugar tax on the back of them.”

Force to reformulate

Stevens also urged the government to force food companies to reformulate in order to tackle the “national sugar high”​ that was increasingly ruining people’s health.

He said: “We’ve taken out 15% of added salt from our food over the course of the last decade. We need to set comparably ambitious targets for added sugar and hold the food industry to account for that with regulatory action.”

“There is an important case for not doing this overnight with a big bang, but doing it on a phased basis. It’s partly around re-educating our palates and the palates of our children.”

The latest assault on sugar follows last week’s warning by Prime Minister David Cameron that a sugar tax might be the best way to combat obesity. It contradicts a statement made last October, in which he said there were more effective ways of tackling the issue.

The government’s strategy on childhood obesity, originally scheduled for last December, is expected to be published next month.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) response:

Ian Wright, director general of the FDF, said:

“It’s puzzling that Mr Stevens has chosen to pre-empt the launch of government’s comprehensive obesity strategy, which his own department is developing, to announce plans for new taxes, which haven’t ever been shown to make a sustained difference to obesity. Public Health England acknowledges that there is a lack of evidence about the long-term effectiveness of additional taxes on food and drink. We can only assume, therefore, that today’s announcement is driven more by the need to raise money than by any wish to change behaviours.

“Only recently [September 2015], Simon Stevens announced plans for a holistic strategy​ to support the health of the NHS workforce, including exercise classes, health checks and support for employees’ mental health, as well as efforts to work with suppliers to make food and drink sold on-site healthier. All of these initiatives taken together have a far greater chance of creating a healthier workforce and one that can inspire patients toward healthier behaviours.”

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Lack of real science

Posted by Zoltan Sandor,

The real problem isn't the sugar. Sugars (and fats) are foods and are sources of energy. But entropy and sodium intakes = five decades global censorship, corruption, pseudoscience and lack of real science.
Unfortunately, the real science of salt is a taboo, and this is a fatal error. Unnecessary sodium intakes = excess diffusion of Na ions into the cells = excess work (energy expenditure) of the Na/K pumps ... all the rest of our vital processes recieve less energy (ATP) = everything work worse in our body.
Folly (or villainy) to swell up the water, on an area hit with flood. The essence of the true science of salt is so simple. Kindergartener may understand it. Good education and real responsibility are needed, and is end of the pseudoscientific lies forever.

W J Oliver, E L Cohen, J V Neel: Blood pressure, sodium intake, and sodium related hormones in the Yanomamo Indians, a "no-salt" culture.
Circulation. 1975; 52: 146-151

More details and references:
Re: The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?
BMJ (online) 25 September 2015
http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4962/rr-5 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282672806

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Posted by Dave,

Assuming the sponsors of this initiative are sincere and this is not another vote-grubbing PR move. Taxing peoples' "behavior" is never about truly helping them.

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A big Mistake

Posted by mike duckett,

Why should the NHS staff carry the burden of paying extra for drinks and snacks. The tax should apply nationally the amount raised will not be millions as staff will shop elsewhere for goods

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