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expert reaction to draft legislation on a sugar tax

The government has drafted legislation on a sugar tax, first announced earlier in the year, that confirms a two-band levy for sugar-added soft drinks.

 

Prof Mark Hanson, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Science at the University of Southampton, said:

“At the University of Southampton we have been emphasising for many years the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle in children and young people. This is vital for their future health and also for the health of their children. We hear much about the obesity epidemic, especially in children (33% are overweight or obese by the time they enter secondary school in the UK) but few of us appreciate how an unhealthy lifestyle when we are young, exposes us to risk not only of cardiovascular disease, but to diabetes, asthma and some cancers. It also impairs our school and work performance.

“Over-consumption of foods which contain high levels of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages is one part of the problem. Targets for the reduction of sugar in food and drinks are therefore critical – on the basis that what gets measured gets managed.  Hopefully the plans to put a levy on sugar in fizzy drinks will reduce consumption too, but this will depend on industry engaging positively with the agenda. There is no single approach which will reduce levels of obesity, so we should not expect this to do so on its own; but it could be part of a holistic approach and do much to raise awareness of the problem.”

 

Prof Paul Dobson, Professor of Business Strategy and Public Policy at the University of East Anglia, said:

“Benefits are already flowing even before the Soft Drinks Industry Levy comes into force as the industry scrambles to reformulate its drinks.  There is changing public sentiment towards sugary soft drinks which are little more than liquid candy and we are now seeing the industry respond positively by reducing sugar levels.

“If this product reformulation process continues then the government might not achieve its projected tax revenues from the levy, but the public health benefits will be enormous from lower sugar consumption.  The success of this levy will not escape the attention of other countries and I expect many of them to follow suit with similarly well-crafted measures of their own.”

 

Dr Max Davie, Assistant Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“After years of campaigning we are very pleased to see Government moving forward with this draft legislation.

“The sugary drinks that will be affected by this tax have no nutritional benefit and often contain levels of sugar that are above a child’s daily recommended limit. These drinks are a major contributor to the high sugar intakes of children, particularly teenagers, and we are in no doubt that they are, in part, contributing to this country’s obesity crisis.

“We hope that drinks manufacturers use today’s draft legislation as a spring board to show their commitment to improve child health and voluntarily reformulate their sugar sweetened soft drinks ahead of the policy passing into law. By doing so they will help thousands of vulnerable children and young people and will be going some way to protecting the future health of our nation.”

 

Prof Tom Sanders, Professor emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, said:

“There is no doubt that this sugar tax popularised by Jamie Oliver has raised awareness about the adverse effects of drinking too much sugary drink. It may also yield substantial revenue for the government.  But because the increased in cost is so small (6-8 p/ 330 ml), it is highly unlikely to deter consumption among children and young adults.

“There is much greater variability in price for the same product depending on where it is purchased. For example the price of a 330 ml serving ranges from 30p in when bought in bulk Tesco https://www.mysupermarket.co.uk/brands/Coca_Cola_in_Tesco.html   to around £1.50 on a railway station. The price is even higher in restaurants; for example, a coke is listed as costing £2.65 in Jamie’s Italian (https://www.jamieoliver.com/italian/menu/drinks/).

“What will be interesting is whether these restaurants and other higher cost outlets will pass on the lower cost of the sugar free varieties to consumers because a cost differential between sugar free drink might encourage consumers to choose the sugar free option.

 

Dr Amelia Lake, dietitian and public health nutritionist at Durham University, said:

“This is an important step forward and complies with WHO recommendations.   Obesity is a complex problem.  A sugar tax may not be the magic bullet to address our obesity problem; however, it is one piece of a large complex jigsaw and an important piece at that!”

* https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/finance-bill-2017-draft-legislation-overview-documents

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/finance-bill-2017-government-legislates-for-new-tax-changes

 

The SMC also produced a Factsheet on sugar and health which is available here: http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/sugar-and-health

 

Declared interests

Prof. Tom Sanders:

Prof Tom Sanders is a Scientific Governor of the charity British Nutrition Foundation, member of the scientific advisory committee of the Natural Hydration Council (which promotes the drinking of water), and honorary Nutritional Director of the charity HEART UK.

He is now emeritus but when he was doing research at King’s College London, the following applied:

Tom does not hold any grants or have any consultancies with companies involved in the production or marketing of sugar-sweetened drinks. In reference to previous funding to Tom’s institution: £4.5 million was donated to King’s College London by Tate & Lyle in 2006; this funding finished in 2011. This money was given to the College and was in recognition of the discovery of the artificial sweetener sucralose by Prof Hough at the Queen Elizabeth College (QEC), which merged with King’s College London. The Tate & Lyle grant paid for the Clinical Research Centre at St Thomas’ that is run by the Guy’s & St Thomas’ Trust, it was not used to fund research on sugar. Tate & Lyle sold their sugar interests to American Sugar so the brand Tate & Lyle still exists but it is no longer linked to the company Tate & Lyle PLC, which gave the money to King’s College London in 2006.

Tom also used to work for Ajinomoto on aspartame about 8 years ago.

Tom was a member of the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee that recommended that trans fatty acids be removed from the human food chain.

Tom has previously acted as a member of the Global Dairy Platform Scientific Advisory Panel and Tom is a member of the Programme Advisory Committee of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.

In the past Tom has acted as a consultant to Archer Daniel Midland Company and received honoraria for meetings sponsored by Unilever PLC.

Tom’s research on fats was funded by Public Health England/Food Standards Agency.”

Dr Lake:

Paid employment or self-employment – Durham University & Fuse

Grant funding NIHR SPHR (current)

Voluntary appointments BNF scientific committee

Memberships BNF, BDA, Nutrition Society, Association for Nutritionists, ASO

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