THE BLOG

Will a Sugar Tax Curb Rising Levels of Type Two Diabetes?

29/11/2015 19:06 GMT | Updated 29/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Calls for the Government to introduce a 20% tax on sugar sweetened soft drinks are getting stronger and stronger.

Just last month Public Health England (PHE), the Government's own agency tasked with protecting the nation's health, called for a sugar tax in it's much publicised Sugar Reduction report and now the highly influential Health Select Committee has urged the Government to introduce the tax in its report on childhood obesity.

The tax also has the support of celebrated TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has attracted widespread media coverage for his campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of having too many sugary foods and drinks.

The fact that calls for a sugar tax are getting more traction is good news as it has shone a spotlight on the fact that we are all consuming too many sugary foods and drinks, which is damaging to our health. Currently, the average intake of 'added sugars' across all age groups exceeds the recommended maximum amount of 5% of total daily energy intake.

Alarmingly, some children are consuming as much as six times the maximum amount of added sugar recommended. Excessive amounts of sugar obviously leads to tooth decay but because sugary foods and drinks are high in calories, it also plays a major part in weight gain, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, as well as other chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

This is why we support calls for the Government to introduce a 20% tax on sugar sweetened soft drinks, and as part of a new national alliance of organisations fighting obesity, we want the Government to include proposals for a sugar tax in its childhood obesity strategy, which is expected early next year. Though it's important that the tax is introduced in a way that doesn't adversely affect people living with Type 1 diabetes who may rely on high-sugar products to treat low blood glucose levels.

The evidence shows that the tax could have a significant impact on the public's health and help to reduce almost 200,000 people from becoming overweight or obese. Children and young people also stand to gain hugely from a sugar tax as soft drinks provide on average 29% of the daily sugar intake for those aged 11 to 18.

But while a sugar tax would certainly help to improve the public's health, it is only one measure, and will not be enough on its own. We shouldn't be tempted to see it a magic bullet answer to the high rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes that we are seeing.

We need bold and far reaching action from all areas of Government to ensure that making the healthy choice becomes the easy choice. Relentless marketing of unhealthy food, cheap and easily available junk food and unclear nutritional labelling of food are all examples of how our environment makes it difficult for people to make the right choices when it comes to diet.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We want to see a robust approach to the regulation of the food and drink industry, going beyond the current voluntary public health responsibility deal to reduce the burden of obesity. The Government should place restrictions on marketing junk foods to children, and set targets for the food and drinks industry to take out salts, fats and sugars in food. We think manufacturers must look at the content of products to make them healthier, and limit price promotions on unhealthy food as up to 40% of food shopping is spent on items on promotion. Information should be clearly visible, for example, through front of pack food labelling, so people are able to make informed decisions about their eating choices.

The National Diabetes Prevention Programme, which we are working on jointly with NHS England and Public Health England, is another positive step in the right direction. The evidence shows this type of intervention, where people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes are supported to eat well and exercise more, works, but we need a concerted effort and stronger leadership from all areas of Government to help people make sustained lifestyle changes so they can live long and healthy lives.

Without a doubt, reversing the rising tide of obesity and Type 2 diabetes is a huge challenge. There is no magic bullet and one measure on its own will not be enough. If we get this right, we can save millions of lives and reduce costs to our already stretched health service.