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Should the sugar tax be scrapped?

This is a guest post, written by Manveer Singh Wilkhu in Year 12 for our Sugar Tax Series

I believe not, and I would go further to say that we need more taxes on unhealthy food.

The UK sugar tax (Soft Drinks Industry Levy) first came into effect April 6th 2018. It placed a tax on companies that create high sugar drinks and used 2 bands; band 1: Over 5g of sugar per 100ml, and band 2: over 8g per 100ml. these were levied at 18p/l and 24p/l respectively. Some examples of drinks under the higher band tax are Lucozade energy and full strength Coca Cola and Pepsi, while the lower band tax catches drinks such as Fanta, Sprite and Dr. Pepper. All of these drinks are extremely popular with teenagers, and a peer reviewed study from 2016 by Oxford and Cambridge University estimated that the tax would help reduce obesity cases in the UK by around 150,000 per year. I believe this is a good first step to start tackling child obesity. Official figures from last updated 24th October 2019 state that “More than 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they begin school, and 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school”. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that “sugary drinks account for 30% of 4 to 10 year olds’ daily sugar intake” in spite of the current sugar tax. In a population where obesity rates seem to increase every year, this statistic is extremely troubling. Child obesity is not just a national problem, but an international problem. Child obesity leads to adult obesity, and leads to obesity being prevalent in the next generation. It also has severe repercussions to your health, such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, and strokes. – which cause early death in many people.

Consequently, the effects of a sugar tax are largely positive, it gives these high sugar companies a stimulant to make healthier, lower sugar products, and to an extent this has worked, with some manufacturers such as Irn Bru slashing their sugar content in an attempt to escape the tax, and the evolution of ‘Diet’ and ‘no sugar’ products using artificial sweeteners, although the full effects of these are not known yet. Unfortunately, There was also backlash by the public in Irn Bru’s case by the Scottish, whose affinity for the drink “verges on iconic”.

Although, these sugary drinks are still very cheap, and can definitely be seen to be the deciding factor that causes the highest rates of obesity to be in the poorer proportion of the population. As the sugar tax, made the prices of these drinks rise without a defict in the process of healthy food, the families of the poor are increasingly ‘put out’ and their ability to find products they can afford grow slimmer. Healthy food is also more expensive than sugary drinks and are not as readily available, especially when out of season (So, a case can be made for scrapping the sugar tax).

However, in 2018 alone, the sugar tax brought in £153.8 million (HMRC figures), which helped fund physical education activities in schools and contributed towards the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund. There are also several programmes involved with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy such as Sport Premium. These, I believe, are strong factors in why sugar tax shouldn’t be scrapped. They help provide the less wealthy with incentives and opportunities to live and eat healthier to try combat the cheaper alternative of sugary drinks.  

The sugar tax provides several initiatives to young children to help combat the rising obesity levels. P.E, is a strong way to combat this. The sugar tax revenue helps pay for many P.E. opportunities for children, helping them burn off the fat and calories produced by the sugary foods consumed, as well as increasing awareness for exercise in the youth and in general for public health.

However, I believe this is clearly not enough, as obesity rates- particularly in the youth- continue to rise. One of the main reasons for this, is the availability and cheap prices of other sugary products, mainly sweets and chocolates. It is of course true that sugary drinks can contain sometimes 11 spoons of sugar and it can be seen that their sugary content is damning to the health of children, the chocolates that our parents and grandparents once considered a rare treat, are now becoming a staple part of the nations diet. The prevalence of sugar addiction amongst the youth is being caused by the regular intake of sugar from unhealthy sources such as chocolate, therefore I believe that taxing these foods that are becoming a necessity will put the public off buying them and consequently decrease unhealthy sugar addiction to improve the health of our nation.

As a consequence of a further sugar tax on general “unhealthy” food, it may be that healthier foods and low(er) sugar foods become more accessible and the public turn to eating these foods more- decreasing the amount of unhealthy consumption and therefore helping to reduce child and adult obesity as well as other related problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

To conclude, the sugar tax is an integral part of reducing the global obesity crisis, but for it to work more effectively, we need more restrictions and changes, such as taxes and limitations on regular highly accessible sugary and unhealthy foods such as chocolates. 

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