Will The Sugar Tax Work?

On the day of writing this post, the #SugarTax starts. But will it have a significant impact? The hashtag is creating a conversation online; in the post I share my personal thoughts.

As you read this, you will be paying 24p per litre more for a can of fizzy drink. This has been added to the worst sugar offenders, which have 8g of sugar per 100ml. 18p is added to those with 5g of sugar per the same amount.

I knew the country had an obesity problem, however I didn’t quite realise to what extent. I was shocked when I discovered that 27% of us are obese and UK adults consume twice as much sugar as recommend, kids three times as much!

The idea behind taxing sugar in fizzy drinks is that it will instantly result in a lesser consumption of it and so fewer people will become overweight. I however believe that it is not that simple. Yes the tax might result in lower demand of those products, but who is to say that people will consume fewer calories.

According to Christopher Snowdon, health writer for The Spectator, ‘We are eating less sugar now than we were in the 1970s, when obesity rates were extremely low. In the past 10 years we’ve also seen an almost 45 per cent drop in sugary drink intake, test we’re heavier.’ This to me shows that obesity isn’t directly correlated to sugar or sugary drinks.

This is the same for kids aged four to ten; they drink 23% fewer sugary drinks than they did six years ago. I believe that most of the added sugar doesn’t necessarily come from drinks. Preserves, confectionery and chocolate are possibly more to blame for the obesity rate.

Having said this, a 2017 Lancet study said that the sugar tax would have a positive impact, reducing obesity, type 2 diabetes and cavities.’ However, other research questions those findings. One suggests that the sugar tax could reduce energy intake by five calories per head per day. That’s a quarter of a teaspoon and therefore is unlikely to have any impact.

The Danish brought in a ‘saturated fat tax’ on all food containing more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat in 2011. However, it is reported that this had no effect on the intake. The ‘substitution effect’ occurred instead. This is essentially when people replace calories with other foods, or they brought foods containing saturated fat elsewhere. It was repealed in 2012.

This shows that individuals seek alternatives to satisfy their cravings and in turn are continuing to contribute to the obesity level. I feel that we need to look at the bigger picture, the socioeconomic and even environmental factors as well as the easy availability of high-calorie foods – 24/7. More effective education could be the key in my opinion; also better funding for weight management programmes and eating disorders within the NHS; the waiting lists are currently years long!

As a society, we are moving away from a regular eating pattern and in some cases moving less. Portion sizes have been upsized and it always seems that chocolate treats and biscuits are always the ones on promotion or being discounted.

I have also seen that a lot of brands are swapping sugar in the products for sweeteners. I personally do not feel that this is any healthier than just consuming the potentially more natural sugar. The artificial sweetners does nothing to minimise the nation’s sweet tooth.

Rather than looking for a short term fix, looking at the long-term could have a much more influential impact in my opinion. Long-term approaches could include better education, smaller portions, clearer food labelling, investment in activity and incentivising healthy choices, rather than focusing on creating grabbing headlines and disincentivising unhealthy ones.

I’m currently unsure whether the tax will help to fight childhood obesity. However I appreciate the tax going towards funding sports and breakfast clubs, rather than disappearing into the government’s pocket. These activities should help kids stay healthy and gain experiences they would have otherwise not have had.


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