Sugar Tax: Report urges Government to ‘wake up’ and take action

By Liam Garrahan contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image credit: Hemjaa/Thinkstock
Image credit: Hemjaa/Thinkstock

Related tags: Soft drinks, Nutrition, Sugar

The Government Health Select Committee has urged MPs to take action and introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks, although it has expressed concerns that the hospitality industry could  ‘absorb’ the tax instead of passing it onto consumers. 

The Childhood Obesity Inquiry​ highlights that the 10p sugar tax can play an important role in reducing childhood obesity with proposed measures including stronger controls on soft drinks promotions available in pubs and restaurants, and labelling soft drinks to show their sugar content in teaspoons.

It found that a 10-20 per cent rise in price for high sugar drinks via tax or levy would likely have an effect on purchasing behaviour, at least in the short term. However, it suggests that the tax would be less effective if the food and drink industry decided to ‘absorb’ the tax rather than passing it on to customers with the ‘pass on rate’ varying from over 100 per cent in some countries where taxes have been introduced, to 50 per cent in others.

Professor Susan Jebb OBE, University of Oxford, called for the Government to ‘wake up’ and take more risks.

“We have to wake up to the scale of the challenge. It is huge. We have to have a proportionate response. That means far bigger, bolder steps,” she said.

“Frankly, I do not think we have the luxury of being able to pick and choose and say ‘Well, we prefer not to do something on that. I don’t think we will look at it now’. Wake up. We have to focus on all of these and we have to take action across a whole breadth of areas. It is far too casual to think we can just park this on the sidelines as something we are not going to look at right now.”

The report proposes that money raised from the tax will be put towards helping children who are most at risk of obesity.

Areas for implementing change

The listed areas for implementing change are as follows:

  • Strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink.
  • Tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink.
  • A centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink.
  • A sugary drinks tax on full sugar soft drinks, in order to help change behaviour, with all proceeds targeted to help those children at greatest risk of obesity.
  • Labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons.
  • Improved education and information about diet.
  • Universal school food standards.
  • Greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity.
  • Early intervention to offer help to families of children affected by obesity and further research into the most effective interventions.

The inquiry follows Jamie Oliver and Sustain's plea to restaurants to add a 10p tax to all sugary drinks​, although this was slammed by JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin who claimed that the campaign is 'out of touch'​.

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