22 Oct 2015

‘Introduce sugar tax’, health officials tell government

To tackle the obesity crisis, a “sugar tax” should be levied, alongside other measures to restrict the marketing of high sugar foods and drinks to children, health officials recommend.

In a report, Public Health England (PHE) said that the prices of products such as full-sugar soft drinks should be increased by 10 to 20 per cent by means of a tax or levy.

The report, which was supposed to be published in July, was delayed to give the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt more time to build support for the government’s obesity strategy.

Under pressure from MPs, it was finally published on Thursday – the same day that it was confirmed that David Cameron had rejected its recommendation of a sugar tax without reading it.

A Number 10 spokesman made clear that Cameron does not want a sugar tax to feature in the government’s national obesity strategy, telling reporters: “The prime minister’s view remains that he doesn’t see a need for a tax on sugar.”

‘Sugar tax’

The PHE report also calls for efforts to “reduce and rebalance” the number and type of price promotions on foods and to “significantly reduce opportunities to market and advertise high-sugar food and drink products to children and adults across all media including digital platforms and through sponsorship”.

The health officials say food retail price promotions “are more widespread in Britain than anywhere else in Europe” and “higher sugar products are promoted more than other foods”.

The report, called Sugar Reduction: The Evidence For Action, warns that average sugar intake is 12% to 15% of people’s energy intake instead of the 5% government advisers say it should be.

“Research studies and impact data from countries that have already taken action suggest that price increases, such as by taxation, can influence purchasing of sugar-sweetened drinks and other high-sugar products at least in the short term with the effect being larger at higher levels of taxation,” it says.

‘Reduced portions’

In other recommendations, the report says steps should be taken to create a clear definition of what high sugar foods are.

It also calls for the “introduction of a broad, structured and transparently monitored programme of gradual sugar reduction in everyday food and drink products, combined with reductions in portion size”.

Read more: Now cut sugar in food, say successful salt campaigners

The government must also continue to “raise awareness of concerns around sugar levels in the diet to the public as well as health professionals, employers, the food industry etc, encourage action to reduce intakes, and provide practical steps to help people lower their own and their families’ sugar intake.”

Attacking price promotions in supermarkets and other outlets, the report says: “Price promotions increase the amount of food and drink people buy by around one-fifth. These are purchases people would not make without the in-store promotions.

“They also increase the amount of sugar purchased from higher sugar foods and drinks by 6 per cent overall and influence purchasing by all socioeconomic and demographic groups.”

‘Childhood obesity’

The Number 10 spokesman defended Cameron’s position, saying “he very much sees that it is really important for us to tackle childhood obesity”.

Some of the proposed measures such as restrictions on advertising unhealthy products to children, or lowering sugar content in food and drinks would be taken into account as the strategy was drawn up, he said.

But he added: “The prime minister’s view remains the same: that he does not see the need for a tax on sugar, but that it is important to remember that that is not the only part of this debate, that there are a large number of different elements to it… The prime minister thinks there are more effective ways of tackling this issue than putting a tax on sugar.”