Sugar taxA large number of medical and public health organisations have welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in his budget [March 2016] of a levy on sugar sweetened beverages, with one senior figure calling it ‘fabulous news for children and families’.

The new levy will come into force in 2018 with two bands – one band for drinks with a total sugar content above 5g and below 8g per 100ml and a second higher rate band for those 8g per 100ml or above. Pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks are excluded from this levy. The Chancellor has announced that the income generated from the new levy will go towards school sports programmes.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, praised the move, saying: “A sugary drinks levy is fabulous news for children and families in helping them to cut back on sugar. This will reduce the risks of obesity, tooth decay and other life threatening diseases. This is public health in action and a great foundation ahead of the child obesity strategy later this summer.

“A levy or tax was one of eight recommendations from PHE’s evidence review on sugar reduction and is a stunning early indication of the Government’s commitment to reducing child obesity. The Chancellor has firmly set this in the context of every child having the right to a good start to life, especially good that the money raised will be used to boost funding for school based exercise and sport.”

The British Dietetics Association (BDA) also welcomed the move but feels it should be part of a wide range of public policies and meansures to reduce the frequency and amount of sugary drinks consumed by children and adolescents. They believe education programmes will be beneficial in reducing the intake of sugar sweetened beverages, and encourage the use of the levy funding to assist with such programmes.

Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also called for the levy to be part of wider measures. She said, “I’m delighted that at a time when 3 children in every classroom are overweight or obese, Government has taken heed of the grave dangers of childhood obesity on life-long health and announced a sugar levy on sweetened drinks. Our poll of the British people last year showed there was majority support for such a measure. I applaud this step as a powerful message that will underline to the world that the UK intends to show global leadership in tackling childhood obesity.

“It’s good to see the levy will help improve children’s sports facilities, but I urge Government to also consider the other measures we’ve advocated. In particular I would like to see research addressing measures to reduce childhood obesity risks that arise in the womb during pregnancy, and in infancy. The more we know about underlying causes, the better we can prevent the problem.

“It is also imperative that the impact of the sugar tax is rigorously evaluated so that other countries can learn from the UK’s vision. Obesity currently costs the British taxpayer an estimated £4.6bn a year, but more relevant is the incalculable harm being done by this to children worldwide. This is an excellent start and I look forward to further strong and decisive action from Government in the upcoming Children’s Obesity Strategy. ”
However, the move isn’t without its critics. The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) expressed their strong disapproval. Gavin Partington, their Director General, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Government’s decision to hit the only category in the food and drink sector which has consistently reduced sugar intake in recent years - down 13.6% since 2012. We are the only category with an ambitious plan for the years ahead – in 2015 we agreed a calorie reduction goal of 20% by 2020.”

Ian Wright CBE, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), also raised concerns, saying ‘ For nearly a year we have waited for a holistic strategy to tackle obesity. What we've got today instead is a piece of political theatre.

“The imposition of this tax will, sadly, result in less innovation and product reformulation, and for some manufacturers is certain to cost jobs. Nor will it make a difference to obesity. Many of those singled out today by the Chancellor have been at the forefront of efforts to provide consumers with healthy choices. The industry will now ask whether such efforts are still affordable."