No the Sugar Tax won’t solve the obesity problem


This is the fourth blog I have done about obesity this year so you might think I am obsessed. You would be right. As the saying goes ‘obesity is the new tobacco’. Obesity is a killer either directly or by the multiplicity of problems it causes. If it doesn’t kill you it can ruin your life. You will suffer for a wide variety of problems both physical and/or mental. It affects 15 million people not all of whom will end up suffering in any of these ways. But many, many of them will. You and I have a duty to talk and campaign about these issues.

This week I have had two meetings on behalf of the LGA with Ministers about childhood obesity. The first was with the Public Health Minister and the second was with the Treasury Minister looking at the proposed Sugar in Drinks tax. These meetings have been very productive. Whilst I and indeed the LGA do not feel that the Childhood Obesity Strategy has gone anywhere near far enough what they are doing and suggesting are good starts.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have also been concerned about the half-witted way in which some councils have greeted the appearance of the Coca-Cola van around the Country as the Christmas equivalent of seeing the first swallow of the summer. I have been appalled that some councils which are also public health authorities have been putting out press releases actually welcoming this. They say that this is a tradition. Well this is only the fifth year that this tour has taken place. Long enough to be a tradition in America perhaps but we like our traditions to have a longer provenance. Not everyone has agreed with me about the van. They think I am like a nanny telling people what to do or a Scrooge wanting to kill Christmas with a “Bah, Humbug”, attitude. Well sometimes perhaps that is what is needed especially when a survey released yesterday shows that many parents of obese children think that their children are not overweight. If there is one simple test you want use to check if you or your children are obese then you can do it now at no cost using no chemicals. If your children’s thighs rub together when they walk (or yours do for that matter) then they (or you) are obese.

Let’s just look at that survey. This is how the BBC reported it this morning:

The health of children will benefit most from the sugar tax on the UK soft drinks industry, according to a study.

It predicted if sugar was cut in the sweetest drinks in response to the tax, levels of tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes would fall, particularly among the high-consumption under-18s.

Researchers said the overall effect of the tax – due to start in April 2018 – would be modest but significant.

Soft drinks firms say there is no evidence a tax would cut obesity.

The tax will be applied depending on the sugar content of drinks, so there will be no tax on diet drinks, a lower tax on mid-sugar drinks and a higher tax on high-sugar drinks.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates the levy could add 18p to 24p to the price of a litre of fizzy drink if the full cost is passed on to the consumer.

This amounts to an extra 6p on a regular can of Fanta and Sprite, and an extra 8p on a regular can of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Irn-Bru.

The study, published in the Lancet Public Health Journal, modelled different ways that the soft drinks industry could respond to the tax and then estimated what the likely impact would be on the health of the UK population.

Obesity affects 15 million

The study estimated that reducing sugar content in the sweetest drinks by a third and mid-sugar drinks by 15% could result in more than 140,000 fewer children and adults with obesity, out of a UK total of more than 15 million.

This move could also lead to 269,000 fewer cases of decaying teeth and 19,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes every year, the study said.

Passing on half of the cost of the levy to consumers, leading to a 20% increase in the price of high and mid-sugar drinks, was predicted to reduce the number of obese adults and children by 81,600, cases of diabetes by 10,800, and decaying teeth by 149,000.

This would impact children the most because they are the largest consumers of sugary drinks.

And it would result in an average reduction in sugar intake of 5kcal per person per day – equivalent to a third of a teaspoon of sugar.

Just look at those marvellous figures just brought about by the tax. But then add up how many children and adults will still be obese and look, therefore at the health consequences of that obesity. 15 million people obese means a huge cost to the NHS putting right or ameliorating the conditions that flow from obesity. BUT that is to take no account of the misery that obesity brings with it in its wake. People who cannot take part in a whole range of activities which leads to a deterioration of their physical health. Let us not forget either the mental health consequences of people who can no longer go out much or indeed at all.

Look too at the response of the industry who claim that the available evidence does not support that sugary drinks have a causal effect on obesity or that a tax will not reduce the consumption. Does that sound familiar? Yes it does. It’s what the tobacco industry were saying fifty years as they tried to bury the evidence which they had collected which proved that they were lying.

So here’s a Christmas message for you. Have a good Christmas but have a good healthy Christmas. Remember that Coca-Cola don’t go around with their truck because they want to wish you a Merry Christmas. They do so because they want to get people stuck on their product. They have other products available now such as diet and no sugar drinks but their big pull is still the original version.

Not buying lots of Coke now (and I do mean the drinks type!) send out a message to manufacturers of products and their retailers. We are seeing signs that they are both reacting to public demand every bit as much as government pressure to reduce sugar (and salt) in their products or what they well. Join me by acting now to help the 15 million who are obese and the 250,000 children a year who will become obese many fo them for life if we don’t accept this challenge now.

Rant over! Be good, be safe and be healthy this Christmas.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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1 Response to No the Sugar Tax won’t solve the obesity problem

  1. Philip Knowles says:

    I work in an FE College. Many of the students drink 3 or 4 ‘energy’ drinks a day to ‘keep them going’. Trying to explain to them that they do no such thing is futile because they believe the hype. The sugar tax will have an impact (but only if the increase is passed on in full) but the biggest impact will be from education of what the word ‘energy’ means – and it means high sugar.

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