A report on sugar’s ruinous health effects that was controversially delayed by Jeremy Hunt has urged ministers to impose a sugar tax. It also pushes for a crackdown on the marketing of unhealthy products to children and two-for-one deals in supermarkets in an effort to tackle childhood obesity.
The report, compiled by Public Health England (PHE), the government’s advisory group, sets out a range of tough policies that it says need to be implemented to reduce the consumption of sugary foods and drinks that are fuelling the obesity crisis and costing the NHS £5.1bn a year. The report was published on Thursday afternoon; the Guardian had obtained an advance copy.
Its recommendations – which include the stripping-out of high amounts of sugar from many everyday food products – pose a serious challenge for ministers, including the prime minister, David Cameron, who have consistently ruled out bringing in any sort of sugar tax, as advocated by Jamie Oliver along with many medical groups and health charities.
No 10 confirmed on Thursday that Cameron did not even read the report before dismissing the idea: “The prime minister’s view remains that he doesn’t see a need for a tax on sugar.” The Food and Drink Federation also vowed to fight any sugar tax.
The report, called Sugar Reduction: the Evidence for Action, was originally meant to be published in July but was delayed by the Department of Health, which PHE is part of, so its findings could be used to “inform” the government’s forthcoming strategy to combat childhood obesity.
Warning that the average sugar intake is 12%-15% of people’s energy intake instead of the recommended 5%, it makes the case for a tax of 10%-20% on sugary foods and drinks: “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.”
The report, a review of the international evidence on how to tackle rising sugar consumption, is clear and urgent from its very first line – “We are eating too much sugar and it is bad for our health” – that radical action is needed if that trend is to be reversed.
It goes on: “Consuming too many foods and drinks high in sugar can lead to weight gain and related health problems, as well as tooth decay. Almost 25% of adults, 10% of four- to five-year-olds and 19% of 10- to 11-year-olds in England are obese, with significant numbers also being overweight. Treating obesity and its consequences alone currently costs the NHS £5.1bn every year.”
Pointing out that the scientific advisory committee on nutrition, a panel of experts that advises ministers, recommends that sugar make up no more than 5% of an average Briton’s daily energy intake, the report warns that current levels of consumption are far beyond that. “Sugar intakes of all population groups are above the recommendations, contributing between 12% and 15% of energy. Consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened drinks is particularly high in school-age children. It also tends to be highest among the most disadvantaged, who also experience a higher prevalence of tooth decay and obesity and its health consequences.”
Source: The Guardian