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The British Government Is Under Even More Pressure to Tax Sugary Drinks

Following last month’s review on sugar from Public Health England, a new report from the Commons Health Select Committee has called for a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks and restrictions on junk food advertising.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Mauren Veras

We all know that sugar, with its addictive, stress-relieving properties and contribution to the Western world's growing obesity crisis, is pretty bad news.

But as cities like Brighton introduce a voluntary sugar tax and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver continues his campaign to add around 10p to the price of soft drinks in the UK, the British government is yet to impose any kind of levy on the sweet stuff.


Now, Prime Minister David Cameron is under further pressure to act on sugar after the release of a new report from the Commons Health Select Committee, which calls for a 20 percent sugar tax and restrictions on junk food advertising.

READ MORE: Britain Is Aware of Sugar's Dangers But Still Won't Tax It

Made up of a cross-party group of MPs, the Committee's report claims there is "clear evidence" that the proposed levy would reduce sales of sugary drinks, which account for 40 percent of 11 to 18-year-olds' sugar intake. It recommends that any proceeds from such a tax are "clearly directed to improving our children's health" and points to Mexico's tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, which saw a 6 percent reduction in consumption in the country.

Currently, a fifth of children in the UK start primary school overweight. This number rises to a third by the time they leave secondary school and contributes to the £5.1 billion spent each year by the NHS on treating obesity.

While the committee states that the need for a sugar tax can "no longer be ignored," it also acknowledges that no single measure would solve the country's obesity problem. Other recommendations include a ban on television advertising of unhealthy foods before 9 PM and clearer labelling of products to show the amount of sugar they contain in teaspoons.

The Committee's report isn't the first to recommend change in government policy as a way to limit sugar consumption. Last month, a review from Public Health England concluded that the nation was "eating too much sugar" and also backed a sugar tax, as well as tougher controls on junk food advertising to children.


Committee chair Dr. Sarah Wollaston stressed the importance of such initiatives. She said: "We believe that if the government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. A full package of measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible."

However food and drink industry figures have argued the sugar tax is unfair and according to The Daily Telegraph, two thirds of the public is opposed to the idea, saying that it would needlessly punish consumers.

READ MORE: Brighton Just Became the First British City to Tax Sugary Drinks

Cameron's government is similarly unconvinced, saying that it will set out plans to tackle sugar consumption early next year when it publishes a child obesity strategy, but is not currently in favour of the tax.

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: "This government is committed to turning the tide on childhood obesity. That is why we are developing a comprehensive strategy looking at all the factors, including sugar consumption, that contribute to a child becoming overweight and obese. This will be published in the coming months."

Exact details of the proposed strategy remain to be seen, but it's clear that Britain's collective sweet tooth can't be ignored for much longer.