With the Chancellor’s budget announcement of a ‘sugar tax’ on drinks, and a focus on diabetes during April’s #WorldHealthDay, sugar is well and truly under attack and a mission to reduce childhood (and adult) obesity has begun. And not a moment too soon.
In 2013, more than 22% of girls and nearly 24% of boys (under 16) living in developed countries were found to be overweight or obese. According to the BBC, at the start of primary school one in 10 children in England is obese (very overweight) and by the time they leave that figure has risen to one in five.
The subject of sugar in relation to child health has been becoming increasingly prominent in the media recently with TV chef Jamie Oliver being a particularly high profile supporter of restrictions on sugar. He has been campaigning for healthier school dinners for children, he introduced a sugar levy in his restaurants, and has set up an e-petition that saw more than 150,000 people backing the tax.
In his budget the Chancellor announced that a levy will be applied to drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 millilitres, with an even higher tax rate for more than 8 grams per 100 millilitres. However, pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks will be exempt. The new tax rules will come into place in 2018, giving drinks companies time to change the ingredients and recipes of their products.
The focus is to be on drinks rather than cakes, sweets or chocolate, because the majority of sugar consumed in children and teenagers comes from soft drinks. Studies have shown that whilst children get sugar from a number of different sources, it is drinks that are the biggest culprits, accounting for almost a third of sugar consumption in children aged 10 years and under. For older children, aged 11-18 years, soft drinks (mostly fizzy) accounted for more like 40% of their sugar intake. In summary, today’s children and teenagers are consuming three times the recommended level of sugar in their diets.
But will the levy work? According to The Telegraph, similar taxes have worked in five other countries, with some methods reducing consumption of fizzy drinks by up to one quarter. A recent report claimed the NHS could save almost 80,000 lives in a generation by weaning the public off its sweet tooth. Plus, the estimated £520m raised from the sugar tax will be put towards boosting primary school sports. So it certainly can’t harm to give it a try.