Jamie Oliver Calls for Sugar Tax on Soft Drinks as Study Finds Obesity Costs the UK Economy Nearly £47 billion a year.
Before I talk about Jamie Oliver’s proposals to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks, let me give you some background on why I feel so strongly about this subject.
The financial costs of obesity are rising fast – for healthcare and in the economy. By causing illness, obesity results in working days and output lost. Obesity costs the UK economy nearly £47 billion a year, according to a study by consultancy firm McKinsey and Company
However, we only spend about 1% of the country’s social cost of obesity, on obesity prevention.
Why is it that people (and governments) tend to focus so much more on the impact of diseases like obesity (and looking for some kind of miracle cure) instead of prevention?
The British Soft Drinks Association reports that the UK soft drinks industry is worth £15.7 billion.
The money spent on obesity prevention (£638 million) is equivalent to approx 4% of the UK spending on all soft drinks.
Prof Jimmy Bell, an obesity expert at the University of Westminster, described the McKinsey research as “shocking” but said it actually underestimated the total cost of obesity. He said the report “fails to include the growing costs to companies and governments for accommodating overweight people.”
“Hospital beds and ambulances now need to be strengthened to carry overweight people and even buses, trains, aeroplanes and entertainment venues need to install bigger and reinforced seating to cope with a society growing in size.”
It is well documented that sugar laden soft drinks are helping to fuel the obesity crisis.
You might think it is positive that In 2014, 49% of carbonated soft drinks sold in the UK were low and no calorie, but research shows that artificial sweeteners in diet drinks and food could also be causing obesity and diabetes.
How Obese Are We?
Two-thirds of adults, in the UK are overweight or obese.
As if that wasn’t scary enough, 2013/14 figures show that one in five reception age children (aged 4-5) are overweight or obese and this increases to one in three children by the time they are in Year 6 (aged 10-11).
As a parent I find those statistics terrifying.
Scientists warn that obesity is overtaking smoking as a leading cause of death and will soon become the principal cause of cancer.
It is predicted that half of the UK population will be obese by 2030.
Is it time to tax all soft drinks?
In Mexico, a 10% tax on Coca-Cola and other sugar-sweetened drinks was implemented on 1 January 2014 (after a battle with the beverage industry). So what was the impact of this?
Well, one year on, the Mexican soda tax succeeded in cutting sales of sugary soft drinks by 6% in its first year and anti-obesity campaigners now want levy on drinks such as Coca-Cola doubled, in line with experts’ recommendations.
Dr Mike Rayner, of the department of public health at Oxford University, a leading authority on the likely impact of food taxes, said: “My immediate reaction is that it is great that it is actually working, because we need more examples of this sort of evaluation of actual taxes to confirm what we know from the modelling about these taxes.”
Modelling a tax of 20% or 20p per litre in the UK, Rayner demonstrated in a paper for the British Medical Journal that around 200,000 cases of obesity would be prevented or delayed. “That’s about a 1% drop in obesity, but it makes a lot of difference because obesity is so prevalent across the country,” he said.
Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has introduced an extra charge of 10p on all sweet drinks served in his Jamie’s Italian restaurants chain, said the levy could raise revenue of up to £1bn per year to support preventative strategies in the NHS and in schools around obesity and diet-related disease.
Jamie Oliver says, “I wrote a personal message to David Cameron, as a father,” Oliver said. “This could be his legacy piece. I sent him a graph that showed that 5-11 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are most at risk. From the advisory discussions I have been involved in on the Government’s obesity strategy I believe change is possible, if there is public support.”
Jamie Oliver also called for a ban on junk food advertising during prime-time programmes including Britain’s Got Talent, which are widely watched by children, and called for clear labelling showing the number of teaspoons of sugar within each sugary food product.
Jamie’s proposals have my complete support. I believe the levy should be applied not just to high sugar drinks, but also those with artificial, chemical sweeteners.
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