The British Chancellor's surprise announcement of a sugary drinks tax two weeks ago caught everyone unawares and I was especially shocked. Even though I've been shouting about this for the past year, the truth is that all along this bumpy journey through my campaign, documentary and my national petition that forced parliamentary debate on the subject, I honestly never thought I'd achieve it. I was kind of fine with that, because just the act of campaigning about it, I felt, was still genuinely moving the goal posts on reformulation, the controversy of marketing high-calorie drinks to children and communicating with the public to be more aware of where the excess sugar lies. So what changed?
The evidence presented to George Osborne was, in the end, too compelling to ignore. As he said in his budget speech, "I'm not prepared to look back at my time here in this parliament doing this job, and say to my children's generation, 'I'm sorry, we knew there was a problem with sugary drinks, we knew it caused disease, but we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing.'". That is why he actioned this tax to come into effect in 2018.
When I found out, I was a mile away from Westminster editing recipes. I went mad, I was physically shaking and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I went AWOL, jumped on my scooter and drove down to Westminster to see what was going on. It was a great buzz - with all the TV and radio lot there, nearly everyone was just as excited as I was (off the record, of course!).
So you're probably thinking, what's all this fuss about. A tax? We hate tax, right? Who wants to give more money to the government? But it goes much deeper than that. My belief is that this tax is a profoundly important moment. Yes, it's designed to lower consumption of sugary drinks and redirect revenue to fund sports and breakfast clubs in schools, as well as to turbo-charge sugary drink reformulation in the industry - this is all important for public health. But really it's symbolic of the government finally saying, enough is enough.
Britain has now joined Mexico and France in taxing businesses when they compromise the health of our children. I don't believe it's anti-business. In the UK, kids and teenagers' single largest source of sugar is from sugary sweetened drinks and with one-third of kids overweight or obese, these statistics cannot be taken lightly anymore. Of course, industry totally disagree - what they all agree on is personal responsibility and self-regulation, and look where that got us.
The announcement of a sugary drinks tax has sent ripples around the world, especially in countries where they're also struggling with childhood obesity. In Canada, I'm expecting big decisions from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on public health - I think he's the man to do it. Recently the Canadian Senate committee published some ideas for tackling obesity, including a sugary drinks tax, the banning of junk food adverts to kids and clearer labelling. In Australia, the tax is grabbing headlines and I think the public are ready to support it. In New Zealand, the education minister also announced over the weekend that she wants all schools to totally review the sugary drinks it offers to kids. That's a big step and we should celebrate that.
We all know that it's not just a tax on sugary drinks that can solve the current obesity crisis. Of course, to create a healthier, happier world, we need to consider many other factors, which is why we await Mr Cameron's childhood obesity strategy with great anticipation. We absolutely need a well-considered, brave and bold strategy of policies, initiatives, incentives and community-based interventions, which together, along with the tax, can be a powerful tool for change. I've drafted and sent my own proposal for a Childhood Obesity Strategy to Mr Cameron, including a whole mixture of initiatives that cover supporting pregnant mothers, clearer labelling, statutory colour coding of nutritional information, reformulation of drinks' portion sizes and all sorts of educational initiatives in schools, to name just a few.
So Mr Cameron, we are waiting for you. The tax was the hardest part, now we need you to act like a parent, not a politician, and take the lead on a holistic, all-encompassing approach to reducing the epidemic levels of childhood obesity. This is far from the end of this fight. We need a global food revolution, and I just hope that our politicians, and those all over the world, are inspired by what happened last week, for the sake of today's children and future generations.
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