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Time for a sugar slow down

By Emma West
Friday, April 6, 2018

Today sees the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) - that's the 'sugar tax' to the rest of us. First announced in April 2016, it launches today. The levy makes soft drinks companies pay a charge for drinks with added sugar, and total sugar content of five grams or more per 100 millilitres. That is about 5% sugar content. There is a higher charge for the drinks that contain eight grams or more per 100 millilitres, or about 8% sugar content.

This policy is aimed directly at reducing sugar consumption in fizzy drinks as one way of tackling childhood obesity. The UK has one of the highest obesity rates among developed countries, and it’s getting worse. By 2050, over 35% of boys and 20% of girls aged 6-10 are expected to be obese. The estimated obesity-related costs to the NHS is over £6 billion. Excess sugar also contributes to Type 2 diabetes and there is also an under-reported issue in children's dental health with excessive sugar consumption leading to alarming increases in dental extractions amongst children.

Easy target

Fizzy drinks are an easy place to start. Some companies have already taken steps to reduce the sugar content in their drinks in order to avoid the ban, others prefer to retain the formula of their brands and expect that the customer will be prepared to pay more. I certainly support a reduction in sugar content however, for me it starts with a personal decision to consume fewer of these kinds of drinks.

On an occasional basis, I do not have a problem with them, and would prefer to have a drink with natural sugars rather than artificial sweeteners. However, when they are routinely consumed, day in day out, as they appear to be by many; adults and children alike, it leads to problems. If the individual does not take steps to reduce consumption, I am not convinced that an increase in price will make much of a difference overall.

By focussing on fizzy drinks it could also divert attention from the wider over-consumption of sugar issue. Pure fruit juices won’t be taxed, because they don’t contain added sugar; however knockng back a large fruity smoothie everyday is not good for your sugar intake. Also untaxed are drinks that have a high milk content, because they contain calcium and other nutrients that are vital for a healthy diet; however a quick read of the carton of any flavoured milk will tell you that these products are also high in sugar. And let's not get started on chocolate - that's for another article!

A step in the right direction

So, it's early days with the sugar tax and whilst it is certainly not perfect, it is a step in the right direction. Similar levies in Mexico have met with success and the money raised in extra tax is earmarked for healthy eating and exercise projects in primary schools, which can only be a good thing.

However, Government intervention in what people can and can't do is always controversial, and it comes down to the individual awareness of the problems, and willingness to make changes as much as State policies. It's a long road to making the UK healthier, but if you don't start you won't get anywhere. Change takes time.

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