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  • Writer's pictureStudents for Global Health UCL

A Spoonful of Sugar Tax

Just a few days ago, the UK chancellor George Osborne announced his plan of attack in the fight against childhood obesity : a new sugar tax. Joining countries such as France, Finland, Hungary and Mexico, the levy is set to launch in April 2018. It will be aimed at high-sugar drinks and will be split into 2 bands: a levy of 18p for drinks with a total sugar content above 5g per 100ml and a second of 24p for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.

Last year alone, the UK consumed 14.8 billion litres of soft drink. As a nation, we LOVE sugary drinks! But we cannot deny the negative impacts of sugar that are becoming increasingly acknowledged. So who’s been pressing for this tax? Well as a matter of fact, pretty much the whole health community is behind it. Simon Stevens, the NHS England Chief Executive, has spoken out in favour of the tax as a ‘major first step to what must be a comprehensive childhood obesity strategy that will help us shed pounds off our waistlines and save pounds on future NHS costs”. Additionally, Jamie Oliver, who has been incredibly active in the fight against sugar, has described the tax as a ‘profound move’.

Unlike other ‘sweet treats’ like chocolate and cake, sugary drinks are becoming more and more of a daily commodity that aren’t automatically thought of as an unhealthy indulgence. For teenagers, sugary drinks are in fact the number 1 source of sugar. Shockingly, just 1 can of cola contains 35g of sugar, which immediately throws you well over your recommended 30g maximum! Nevertheless the tax has been intensely challenged by the soft drinks industry who claim that, ‘singling out soft drinks alone will not solve the obesity problem’. Indeed, whilst fizzy drinks and cordials will be taxed, milk based drinks and pure fruit juices will not. So juices such as Welch’s 100% Purple Grape Juice, which contains 16.5g of sugar per 100ml gets away completely unscathed, despite containing more sugar than nearly all fizzy drinks on sale in the UK!

Yet, with 1 in 5 children classed as obese by the time they leave primary school, it is evident that action must be taken. Stevens has deemed the tax a ‘powerful signal’ to soft drinks companies to address the health consequences of their products. Whilst the tax is definitely not the only solution, the money raised as a result has been pledged to be spent on increasing funding for sport and breakfast clubs in primary schools. So although it isn’t the end to the problem, surely the sugar tax is a step in the right direction in the fight against childhood obesity! 

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