'Sugar tax' proposed by campaign group to curb child obesity

Campaign group, Action on Sugar has created a strategy document of seven critical areas of policy to prevent childhood obesity in the UK, which it has presented to Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health this month - which includes the introduction of a sugar tax. [1]

Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. With one in five 10-11 year olds now obese and one in three overweight, the Action of Sugar plan details the following key actions to change the food environment, which is responsible for the obesity epidemic [2]:

  • Reduce added sugars by 40% by 2020 by reformulating food [3] 
  • Cease all forms of targeted marketing of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods and drinks to children 
  • Disassociate physical activity with obesity via banning junk food sports sponsorships 
  • Reduce fat in ultra-processed foods, particularly saturated fat - 15% reduction by 2020 
  • Limit the availability of ultra-processed foods and sweetened soft drinks as well as reducing portion size 
  • Incentivise healthier food and discourage drinking of soft drinks by introducing a sugar tax 
  • Remove responsibility for nutrition from the Department of Health and return it back to an independent agency.

If these actions are followed, Action on Sugar says the UK government will be the first country in the world to halt the obesity epidemic by reducing calories by 100kcal a day. [4] At present, the costs of obesity and type 2 diabetes are estimated at approximately £29billion a year, and given the number of children who are now obese; this figure is predicted to rise exponentially. The direct and indirect costs of treating type 2 diabetes alone are predicted to rise from £21.8billion to £35.6billion by 2035. [5]

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar says: "Obesity in children leads to the premature development of cardiovascular diseasestrokeheart attacks and heart failure, which are the commonest cause of death and disability in the UK. Obesity predisposes to type 2 diabetes, which further increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and also, importantly, it can lead to severe complications i.e. the commonest cause of blindness, renal dialysis and amputation of the lower limbs. These complications are extremely expensive to manage, and will cripple the NHS if the increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes is not stopped immediately."

Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist and Science Director of Action on Sugar says: "It is really quite shameful that the food industry continues to spend billions in junk food advertising targeting children, the most vulnerable members of society. They even manage to associate sugary products with sport. Physical activity has a multitude of benefits but a child doing an hour of PE every day would be putting all to waste if they ended up gorging on a burger and chips and a packet of crisps washed down with a sugary drink. One has to run half a marathon to burn off those calories. It's time to bust the myth of physical activity and obesity and dissociate junk food and sport."References: 

1. Childhood Obesity Action Plan

2. Jebb SA. Dietary determinants of obesity. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity 2007;8 Suppl 1:93-7.

3. F He, H C Brinsden and G A MacGregor, 2013. Salt reduction in the United Kingdom: a successful experiment in public health. http://www.nature.com/jhh/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/jhh2013105a.html

4. Department of Health, 2011. Healthy lives, healthy people. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213720/dh_130487.pdf

5. Diabetic Medicine: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/About_us/News_Landing_Page/NHS-spending-on-diabetes-to-reach-169-billion-by-2035 /