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Sugar Tax and the effects on the NHS

MPs in England have called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks to help curve the childhood and adult obesity crisis currently facing NHS and the country. This is ahead of a child obesity strategy set to be implemented this year.

This debate has been around for many years with Prime Minister David Cameron ruling out an additional tax on sugary items. However, in a report from the Commons’ Health Committee (a cross-party task force) has said there is “compelling evidence” an additional tax would reduce consumption and, hopefully, obesity.

The most extensive case-study has been Mexico who introduced a sugar tax in 2013; a tax rise of 10% saw a decrease of consumption by 6%. This was introduced as the average Mexican drinks the equivalent of 163 litres of Coca Cola per year.

Currently, most food and drinks are exempt from paying the standard rate of VAT. However, sugary drinks have to pay the full VAT amount (along with other high-sugary items, alcohol etc.) and this additional tax would add a further 20% on these prices. This would push a standard can of Coca Cola from 70 pence to 84 pence including VAT and sugar tax.

It is not thought that the additional tax wouldn’t reduce overall obesity in the long term, but may reduce consumption in the short term before returning to pre-tax levels.

Most children who become obese will become obese adults. One in 5 children start primary school overweight and rising to a third when they leave. Currently, sugary drinks amount for 29% of RDI for sugar for 11-18 year olds. On the flip side, nearly 3/4 adults between the ages of 65-74 is considered overweight or obese.

Treating obesity and their related illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers, cost the NHS £6-8bn a year, the single biggest burden on the NHS next to smoking and costs more than the combined budgets for police, fire services, law courts and prisons. It is expected that this will increase to £12bn by 2030 and, in this era of budget cuts, put more strain on both front line services and also to non-medical/non-clinical services. While such a high front-line price, obesity-preventative programmes only receive £638m and it is thought that the money raised from the sugar tax would be spent on a child health levy to help the worst affected.

However, there are some who say that a tax is simply not enough to crackdown on the crisis but instead a package of measures to be implemented together. Suggestions have been a crackdown on marketing on junk food items, such as sugary drinks, pizza etc., and ban their adverts before the watershed (9pm) instead of suggestions of their ban during children’s programmes. It is also suggested including more physical activity education in schools.

MPs are to discuss the petition launched by Jamie Oliver and signed by over 150,000 people.


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