The campaign to encourage the UK Government to tax sugary soft drinks stepped up a notch this week, with Jamie Oliver continuing his quest at the Houses of Parliament, first with the Health Select Committee and then with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diabetes. He reckons the tax will raise up to £1bn and also change the nations habits and choices towards low sugar varieties of fizzy drinks or water. Jamie’s leading by example in his own restaurants, by making sugary drinks more expensive than ‘diet’ varieties.
Whether this will even be adopted, much less work, remains to be seen. A new tax, particularly on a ‘pleasure’ related activity, may not be popular with the all-important voters. And might it smack of ‘nanny state-ism’, trying to organize the behaviour of the population, rather than allowing them to choose for themselves what is good for them and their families? Discussion boards are full: of ‘righteous restrainers’, who ask why they should pay more tax just because others cannot control themselves in relation to calories, as well as ‘generous gifters’, who see the benefits to all – dental, environment, economic – of a change in availability of so much sugar – and everything in between. Public opinion is divided.
On the other hand, it’s undeniable that we are in the middle of a resolutely ticking, weight-related time bomb, set to go off at any time and unleashing untold illness, misery, and expense to the NHS among middle aged and younger people. Some say there is a generation alive now, who will be the first to die before their parents, because of the wrath of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and immobility, caused by excess calories, of which they are largely unaware because of (allegedly) limited labelling and ruthless marketing on the part of the giant fast food industries
How can these issues be resolved in the interests of everyone? One thing’s for sure, this will not be a ‘one solution fits all’ situation – tax sugary drinks and all will be well. Equally, we believe strongly that people are the best decision makers for themselves, given the information they need to weigh up their choices. So there needs to be a much wider range of information and approaches. Here are some of our ideas to contribute to a way forward:
The National Prevention Programme for Type 2 Diabetes needs to be heavily involved in messages about the seriousness of Type 2 diabetes and the possibility of its prevention, directed at everyone, rather than to those immediately at risk. There are still too many myths about Type 2, including ‘it comes on in later life’ and ‘it’s only the mild form’. The nation’s psyche in this respect needs all the help it can get to change.
Fast food, ready made food and drinks companies need to invest in much clearer labelling to help people make choices – Jamie Oliver’s suggestion that sugar content is shown in spoonfuls rather than grams, for example, would make much more sense to every buyer as they can envisage those spoonfuls being added.
Comparison tools (maybe linked to the self-scanners on trolleys or on the shop floors?) to be freely available in food stores . These would show the relative sugar content of different products by name, so that people can make on the spot choices while actually shopping. These comparator tools could also be online or even (remember the old ways?) in pictorial leaflet –form, but would be most important in-store, where the shopping head is in full control.
The answer to the question this blog poses? There can be sugar everywhere, but it doesn‘t mean we have to eat it. Other substances are also available – as long as we know it!
Be Bold on Sugar Tax, Jamie Oliver Says
Jamie Oliver meets with Diabetes UK at Parliament