George Osborne’s surprise new sugar tax has been greeted with the predictable chorus of glad cries from health campaigners, howls of derision from industry and healthy scepticism from commentators. But whatever the chancellor’s motives (and such is the repute in which he is held that no one believes that he does not have some ulterior political motive) I do believe that the health campaigners are right to be pleased.
It is not that sugar taxes are guaranteed to reduce obesity (the evidence seems to be mixed) and it may even be that, as the leader in the Independent suggests, ‘that it will deprive poorer families of spending power if they have to pay more for their children’s soft drinks (although the tax is designed so that, in theory, this should not happen)…. so that the net effect may simply be a transfer spending power from the poorer to the wealthier and, for that matter, from the fat to the slim.’
But it does suggest that government is prepared to come down hard on industry for once instead of leaving them to self regulate. What this means is that serious effort will now be put into lowering the sugar content of fizzy drinks while maintaining their taste and appeal – and thus their market. (Industry has already done that with salt. When, heavily prodded by Dr Graham MacGregor and his CASH – Consensus Action on Salt – campaign, they more than halved the salt in the average loaf of bread over a ten year period without anyone even noticing.) All good…..
It also another proof of the power of direct (well, at least direct celeb/internet) action – as I pointed out in my last blog about petitions….. This is the second time that HM Gov. has caved in to a health campaign led by Jamie Oliver, ‘more power to him’ as they would say across the Irish Sea. The first one over school meals and now over sugar. This does not mean, of course, that all is now perfect in the school meal world – far from it. And the sugar tax is certainly not going to solve childhood obesity. But….. It moves the argument forward, gets the problem out there and forces those involved to actually engage with it. Again, all good….
For those interested in the sugar question, a great article coming up on the FoodsMatter site next week from Margaret Moss on that very subject. Or you could take look at the report of this fascinating conference run by the British Society for Environmental Medicine last autumn – Sugar…. the Brain, the Microbiome and Cancer – which includes a presentation from US sugar campaigner, Dr Robert Lustig.