Anyone will tell you that there is no pleasing some people. Any politician would heartily agree. Take George Osborne. Having responded to pressure from the public, expert advisers and activists, he has announced a tax on sugary drinks. I am one of an army of concerned consumers that signed various petitions to achieve this happy outcome. The links between these drinks and obesity, type 2 diabetes and other aspects of metabolic syndrome have been widely publicised and well documented for years.
So the government listened and surely we are all happy now? Actually no. Obviously the soft drinks companies aren't openly delighted but the truth is, neither am I. Like I say, there is no pleasing some people and it turns out that I am one of them. So what am I grumbling about?
My issue is not with the tax on sugary drinks. This is a good idea and all the accumulated evidence suggests it will help reduce general consumption. My issue is with the proposed purpose of the revenues raised. Osborne says this money is going to be used to fund sports facilities in schools and invest in a future generation but who stands to win this particular match?
The government gains the confidence of voters: as people we campaigned, they listened and acted accordingly. The nation's schools get some new footballs - maybe even a whole new school stadium. So do the soft drinks companies get anything out of this? This is the aspect of the entire, shady proposal that bothers me the most. The soft drinks companies stand to gain more from this situation than anyone.
Here, courtesy of our government, is a self-funding marketing opportunity that their CEO's must feel is a gift wrapped offering of celestial proportions. Their consumers foot the bill while they have uncapped, unregulated promotional access to the youngest and most easily influenced minds in the country. Better still, these children are exercising in facilities paid for by soft drinks. Even on a subliminal level, if you know Coca-Cola have funded the astro-turf on which you've just worked up a raging thirst, will you be happy quenching that at the crusty old water fountain?
This is assuming that these brand names are not emblazoned all over the new facilities or equipment as they are in many states in America where corporate sponsorship in schools in long-standing, common place and aggressive. I am not suggesting that this latest announcement is a veiled attempt at corporate sponsorship but it is a further move in that direction. We are used to this in Academy Schools but this is a particularly worrying development for shaping the future purchasing habits of our children as they grow. Unless you run a soft drinks company of course.
So what would I prefer to see happen? The obvious answer does not take the level of mathematical agility that you would expect to see from a chancellor. The conditions linked with sugary drinks are not going to be solved by a fast paced game of netball. They are dealt with every minute of every day by exhausted, over-stretched and under paid hospital staff and medical professionals in an institution that is bordering bankruptcy because of the strain these lifestyle related conditions and diseases are putting on the NHS. Why are the funds not being redirected to the struggling junior doctors who will become the country's hope of good health for the future?
Encouraging sport and active lifestyles in schools is great and important and some school's facilities fall woefully short of ideal but are we not inadvertently installing a mindset in our children that you can outrun a bad diet - that you can simply exercise it away? An increasing volume of evidence says that you can't. Quench your thirst with sugar or sugar substitutes because you've done some star jumps so you need it (which, incidentally, you don't).
What better way could soft drinks companies hope to instill this in future generations of purchasers (not to mention a present day mini sales force) than to enforce it with the backing of government? Or consumers: drink Pepsi, help kids. I'm not a fan of political ranting but examples of those big hitters doing something unconditionally benevolent from which they stand to gain nothing, or very little, are few and far between.
I happily and squarely accept accusations of being a grumbling ingrate and I can settle this entirely with my own self-perception. I could blame my own lack of faith in government/ industry partnerships that have panned out well for the general public that they are dressed up to serve. I am also equally happy - in fact I would be delighted - to be proven wrong. For now we have no choice but to stand and watch this match play out.Suggest a correction