- British Medical Association is to demand a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks
- In landmark report, doctors to urge Downing Street to take on food industry
- It found poor diet costs the NHS £6billion a year while claiming 70,000 lives
Levy would raise the price of a one-litre bottle of Coke from £1.50 to £1.80
Sugary drinks should be taxed at 20 per cent to tackle the obesity crisis, doctors will demand today.
In a landmark report the British Medical Association will urge Downing Street to take on the food industry.
It found that poor diet costs the NHS £6billion a year while claiming 70,000 lives.
The BMA’s proposed levy on fizzy drinks and sugar-laden juices would help subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables.
Sweet tooth: This graphic shows how many teaspoons of sugar are in each of the fizzy drinks and sugar-laden juices above. Doctors will today demand that sugary drinks be taxed at 20 per cent to tackle the obesity crisis
The report will pile pressure on ministers who have repeatedly rejected a sugar tax.
The levy would raise the price of a one-litre bottle of Coke from £1.50 to £1.80. A can of Red Bull would go up from £2 to £2.40.
Professor Sheila Hollins, who led the team behind the report, said: ‘If a tax of at least 20 per cent is introduced, it could reduce the prevalence of obesity in the UK by around 180,000 people.
‘We know from experiences in other countries that taxation on unhealthy food and drinks can improve health outcomes, and the strongest evidence of effectiveness is for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
‘The majority of the UK population, particularly low income households, are not consuming enough fruit and vegetables, so financial measures should also be considered to subsidise their price, which has risen by 30 per cent since 2008.’
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She pointed out that Britons were consuming far too much sugar and doctors were linking this to a rise in illnesses such as diabetes.
Kawther Hashem, a nutritionist and researcher for the Action on Sugar campaign, said: ‘Parents and children are drowning in a world full of sugary drinks, cheap junk food and aggressive marketing targeting children.
‘Around the world there are examples where regulations and duties work to reduce sugar intake. All we need now is the Government to show they are genuinely committed to promoting the public’s health.’
Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation said, however, that firms were already cutting salt, saturates and calories from their products as well as offering size options.
He added: ‘For well over a decade, UK producers have voluntarily provided clear nutrition information on packs.
‘The food industry is also helping health professionals to encourage people to use the information provided.
‘Where additional taxes have been introduced they’ve not proven effective at driving long-term, lasting change to diets.’
Gavin Partington of the British Soft Drinks Association said: ‘Evidence from other countries has shown this type of tax does not work.
‘In fact, the soft drinks tax in Mexico has reduced average calorie intake by just six calories per person, per day.’
He said that product reformulation, smaller pack sizes and increased promotion of low and no calorie drinks had led to a 7 per cent reduction in calories from soft drinks in three years.
A Government spokesman said: ‘We are not considering a sugar tax. Tackling obesity is of great concern to this Government, and we have already committed to producing a childhood obesity strategy.
‘There is no silver bullet but we do want to see industry go further to cut the amount of sugar in food and drinks so that people can make healthier choices.
‘We have asked for expert advice about the amount of sugar we should be eating, which will be published soon, and this will be taken into account as we continue to work on our childhood obesity strategy.’
Downing Street was forced recently to slap down a junior health minister who said he would favour a sugar levy.
George Freeman, who has the life sciences portfolio, said: ‘Where there is a commercial product which confers costs on all of us as a society, as in sugar, and where we can clearly show that the use of that leads to huge pressures on social costs, then we could be looking at recouping some of that through taxation.’
But the next day the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said David Cameron ‘didn’t believe that the right approach here is to put sugar taxes on hard-working people’.
The doctors said: ‘[Unhealthy products] are often situated at eye level or within easy reach of young children, which may encourage them to use pester power to persuade their parents to purchase snacks.
‘Regulations should be developed that prohibit retailers from displaying unhealthy food and drink products at checkouts and in queuing areas and the use of schemes that require retail staff to promote unhealthy food and drink products at checkouts.’
The BMA, which represents 153,000 doctors, is seeking a ban on advertising unhealthy food and drink around children’s television programmes and an end to the marketing of sweets by children’s TV characters.
Professor Hollins added: ‘Children and young people are heavily influenced by the relentless marketing of unhealthy food and drinks, and doctors are left picking up the pieces.’
The BMA report comes shortly before a Government advisory body is due to deliver recommendations on sugar consumption.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is expected to say people need to more than halve their intake of added sugar. The final guidelines, expected in the next fortnight, are likely to suggest a male adult should consume no more than the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar a day.
The NHS currently recommends a daily sugar maximum of 12 teaspoons (50g) for a woman and 17 teaspoons (70g) for a man.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has called for a change ‘in the terms of trade’ in the food industry while stopping short of explicitly calling for a sugar tax.
He said it was striking that one child in ten is obese when they start primary school and one in five is by the time they leave.
He added: ‘So the question for all of us is, are we going to, as the National Health Service, stand by and get ready to treat that burden of illness, or are we going to rattle the cage and advocate for something different?
‘I fundamentally believe we need to get a big national conversation going about what we do as parents, about what we do about the food industry, about reformulation [reducing sugar in food], about the role of the NHS in supporting prevention programmes.’
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