Sugar tax - a good idea or nanny state nonsense

Well, after alleged attempts by politicians to bury it, the long-awaited report on reducing sugar consumption in the UK by Public Health England has finally been made public. (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/470179/Sugar_reduction_The_evidence_for_action.pdf)

It makes eight recommendations in total - though the one that has caught the media's attention is recommendation five: "Introduction of a price increase of a minimum of 10-20% on high sugar products through the use of a tax or levy such as on full sugar soft drinks, based on the emerging evidence of the impact of such measures in other countries"

So would a sugar tax be a progressive policy that could nudge people into adopting healthy behaviours or an extra burden on people already suffering in austerity Britain?

I do find it disturbing that, if reports are right, David Cameron has dismissed the findings of the report without actually bothering to read it - it's only 48 pages long. So much for evidence-based politics

25 Replies

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  • Thanks for that, however there seems to be a problem with the link.

  • remove the ')' after the word pdf and you get the page

  • I would definitely be for a sugar tax. People are still smoking even their vice is taxed heavily - the revenue goes someway to offsetting the cost of treating any smoking related illnesses, but it has also dissuaded a lot of people - the tax educates at the same time. This clearly needs to be done with sugar as people just ignore the warnings in the media. The media isn't trustworthy so why believe them. Mind you the government isn't either!! People listen to what's in their pockets/bank accounts and how it disappears.

  • I occasionally like sweets and chocolate. So I am against the sugar tax because it would affect what I like and only occasionally buy.

    Warning Labelling on the supermarket isles would be better.

  • I rather like the teaspoon idea saying how many teaspoons of sugar are in the product. On the other hand I always cook from scratch so I never have any food with nutrition information on anyway and I have cut out simple carbs as I am steroids, so perhaps it would be a bit of a waste of time in my case.

  • johnsmith

    How much do you think it would add to your spend on sweets and chocolate each time? I think they are proposing a 10 to 20% tax.

    Supermarkets do generally clearly mark the high sugar items which could be considered a warning. They lovingly place them near the checkouts and elsewhere attach brightly marked "on offer" signs - when was the last time you saw a two for one on bananas?

  • I run a very tight budget as I am on ESA. Every penny counts. So the sugar tax although not much will have a small effect.

    Many people who are out of work and survive on benefits would be effected.

    A sugar tax on certain items like microwave food will get lost unless it is clearly labelled on the food. The manufacturer who creates the packaging will try and disguise things that puts consumers off.

    I like piglette's idea of how teaspoons of sugar the item contains.

  • Whenever the food industry makes changes they tend not to be what we might expect or want. For fat reduction we got all sorts of gums and other substances instead of the fat. Will we now see ever increasing levels of artificial sweeteners? Could we even see foods get sweeter than they are now? I already find many breads too sweet to enjoy.

    With my paranoid hat on, could we even find the hands of the artificial sweetener makers pushing this tax forward?

  • Apologies for the dodgy link - this should work

    gov.uk/government/uploads/s...

    Plus we now have the BTH analysis up

    nhs.uk/news/2015/10October/...

  • Your last comment is the most telling Gez_Blair; who is advising the PM? Whilst mainstream healthy eating remains focussed on the empty calories of sugar, it is far more sinister

    Today the news highlighted that the WHO has put processed meat on a list of carcinogens. How can the processing/additives be passed as safe, then the product declared a carcinogen?

    Most baffling, sugar hasn't even been considered, never mind appearing on the list?

  • Unfortunately the issue is problematic.

    Some things in certain foods are probably carcinogenic. However, you will have to eat a lot of it and small amounts will probably be safe.

    The alternative is to eat some processed meat which has not been treated with preservative and so is laden with bacteria which will kill you or make you very ill very quickly.

    So the choice is eat this preservative food for 70 years and get cancer or eat this food with no preservative and die from food poisoning within the following week.

    Take your pick. I know what my choice is.

  • Today's Guardian has good article about Mexico's sugar tax as well as the industry's attempt to stop it

    theguardian.com/news/2015/n...

  • It is a good article - and has a lot of comments.

  • I think a sugar tax is a very good idea. Sugar is loaded into so many processed foods these days, and it's a major cause of poor health in developed countries, particularly diseases like diabetes and obesity which have been increasing social and healthcare budget problems.

    If we levied a tax on goods which contain an excessive amount of sugar, it would go a long way I think to addressing these problem, as either companies would be less likely to use sugar like this (and we all know why they do it) as their products would be more expensive and consumers more likely to buy healthier low sugar options.

    The only problem I can see with a sugar tax approach is that less ethical food manufacturers may simply be tempted to get around this by using artificial sweeteners, which as we know have their own health issues.

    I would even go as far as saying we should treat high foods and drinks as hazardous to health, and use a cigarette marketing approach with health warnings quite clear on those products. Sure, we have the traffic light system and red warning on high sugar products but I don't think this registers with many people.

  • Thanks for sharing the report with us and these disturbing findings that the government is ignoring evidence-based research to determine social policy planning (wouldn't be the first time).

    I suspect the reason this report has been buried and ignored, is because there's a conflict of interests or some cross-over here with the giant food and sugar industries, and government. MP's and Ministers are either on the board of many companies, acting as consultants/lobbyists, else it's down to corporations being large donors to specific large parties, and those parties don't want to rock the boat.

    So we have either a much larger, wider problem really, that concerns not just public health, but the way politics is conducted and ethics in politics, in the UK.

    Coming back to the question of sugar, health policy planning, and food regulation though, I think you have to look at the broader bigger picture here of the challenges and problems the UK faces ahead with the NHS. Particularly as we navigate the UK economy out of the EU (and probably out of the single market) into uncertain and uncharted waters.

    The single biggest drain on our economy at present is the NHS. It's a financial black-hole which the government just pours tax-payers money into year after year, with the hope and promise that it will improve or fix itself if they just keep throwing money at the problem. It doesn't make any sense. The demand on NHS resources is growing year on year, and the social and health problems are increasing driving that demand.

    These social and health problems are at the root cause of an efficient and unsustainable NHS. We can tackle these problems better I think. Personally, I think it makes sense to shift a lot of cost burden off the NHS where it's down to social choices, bad lifestyle decisions. Why should everyone else suffer for that? If a person knowingly causes their own health problems and uses the NHS it should be more of a "pay to use" or at least some financial penalty so that people learn to take responsibility and learn that bad choices have consequences.

    We wouldn't need to be thinking about privatizing the NHS (in whole or in part), if we just started to strip away some of these costs and pass these costs onto the individuals who use the service to fix bad lifestyle choices. For example, someone in their 20's goes out binge drinking one night with a group of fiends, has one too many and has some accident, ends up in hospital. Imagine if you left that hospital and the next day you got a bill for £150. That would be an expensive night out and you'd think twice about doing that in a hurry!

    Sorry if my post turned into a bit of ramble guys, just wanted to share my thoughts and see peoples comments. This is something I've been thinking makes sense for a long time and astonished the government hasn't realized this.

  • I'm disturbed by your ideas that the burden of 'bad lifestyle choices' be shifted onto individuals.

    The problem is that people are not making such choices in an economic or social vacuum. The food industry spends vast amounts of money developing and marketing unhealthy food, and also making healthy options less accessible, so it feels like a form of victim blaming to hold people solely responsible if they then follow that easy path that's laid out for them.

  • So getting drunk every weekend binge drinking is not a bad lifestyle choice? Why should everyone else pay for that and suffer a reduced quality of health service? Same goes for smoking, drug abuse, obesity and not exercising and many other bad habits or bad lifestyle choices. The health advice is clear, the warnings are clear, and the lifestyle help is there. If people with problems choose to ignore it, not get help and continue making the same bad choices that ties up NHS resources, drains local GP budgets and ties up NHS hospital resources, they need to start paying for using the health service.

  • We don't need to be thinking about privatising the NHS: we need to think about funding it properly so it is sustainable and even more efficient. We also need to base any changes on evidence: you may think that charging people for, say, A&E, is a good idea, but it will cause harms and we would need to know how much it is likely to cost to charge patients before we could come to a balanced decision on whether it would be something worth doing. £150 would barely cover any costs incurred for an overnight stay, but we all (taxpayers, anyway) pay just over £2,000 a year to fund all of the NHS to make it available to all, free at the point of use. This is 9.9% of GDP and is one of the lowest in the developed world, comparing with 16.6% in the USA. The NHS comes out top in a ranking of 11 OECD countries, with the USA at the bottom.[1]

    __________

    1. commonwealthfund.org/~/medi...

  • "We also need to base any changes on evidence". Unfortunately the evidence the current healthy eating guidelines are based on is flawed, probably due to financial interests. The lipid hypothesis that results in the most widespread, and costly, prescription of statins is flawed. Where do we gain the confidence that the future evidence base of the NHS will be reliable?

    I agree the NHS is competitively priced, but when you look at the outcomes, it's a false economy.

  • I was referring to the evidence that charging patients helps. Your view on healthy eating guidelines is interesting, but what financial interests do you see involved here? Ditto your view that NHS outcomes show false economy?

  • Did you miss this Zeno? bbc.co.uk/news/health-40608253 Health outcomes are poor; kind of defeats the objective of having a health service?

    When health information is changed, the Government are lobbied, start here zoeharcombe.com/2016/03/eat...

  • I don't think it's clear they are judging cancer survival correctly but I'd be interested to see other data on outcomes - there is clearly room for improvement and it would be good to see more progress made on that.. However, as another benchmark, life expectancy in the UK is significantly better than the US.

  • The life-expectancy of the poorer areas of the UK hasn't changed significantly, only the gap between the more affluent areas. Hands up which pay for and use the NHS most?

  • Then health inequalities need to be tackled.

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