Taxing Sugar

Food Public Health

Should we be  taxing sugar?  The evidence shows that sugar is addictive and the health damage caused by excess sugar consumption means it should perhaps be treated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco.

We regulate (not ‘ban’) the selling of damaging foods and other things to children; alcohol, tobacco.  If you’re obese as a child and regain normal weight by adulthood, you can be free of the risks of obesity.  But in this review, 50-70% of over 6000 obese children stayed obese as adults and were at risk of the consequences

See this list from Harvard School of Public Medicine of the sugar content of breakfast cereals.  Some contain over 40% by weight of sugar!
Healthier options might be more expensive, so a tax on sugar could be unfair on lower income families. It might be better to reduce the cost of healthier options to a comparable cost – but how?  We can’t rely on the food industry to stop promoting hi-sugar/salt foods even if they are comparatively more expensive, because they’re addictive and that will cause consumers to buy more.  It’s probably too complicated to give tax breaks to healthy foods, because of multiple ingredients and risk factors, and anyway – that would only end up subsiding the food industry, who would simply increase their mark up.  Beer minimum pricing has not worked because it’s set too low (only 1 on 50 offers have been affected), but this could be simple to implement if based on sugar/salt per 100g.  Or it might be easier to tax sugar/salt at the point of importation or production.

We could ban or severely limit sugar/salt from prepared products and leave the public to add their own, but this alone is unlikely to reduce consumption.

Health Promotion can work – the 5 a day (fruit & veg) and 5 a week (exercise) messages are widely known, if not adhered to.  A breakfast of berries and full fat milk & yoghurt will stave off hunger for much longer than a bowl of cereal and will avoid the insulin surge that feeds obesity.  But advice from clinicians directly to patients doesn’t seem to be working and GPs always seem to demand extra payments for any specific task.  It’s probably unfair to deny or charge the obese for NHS treatment, as causes are multi-factorial.

Exercise has become more difficult, due to reducing school playing fields and outside space, increasing road traffic discouraging cycling, fewer publically run sports and leisure centres – look at the membership cost of private sector centres!

There have been no restrictions on the number and quality of fast food outlets (MacDonalds, KFC, etc) nor on coffee shops, which largely sell sugary foods.  On top of that, we’ve discovered that they’re not even paying their fair share of UK taxes!  If there were less outlets, the public would have to source (hopefully healthier) alternatives.  If they paid their taxes and a fair wage to their employees, their products would not be so cheap and the public would consume less.

We should also consider the current situation with teaching of home economics (cooking, nutrition, etc) in schools?  And the current provision of school dinners?

Labour’s Policy Review: Children, Food and Obesity