This week Public Health England released their long-awaited report in regards to reducing the sugar that we as Britons consume everyday. The results, while alarming, weren’t that shocking. What I mean by that is that it was no surprise to find out that we are “eating too much sugar” as a nation and that something needs to be done about it. The report also identified that a potential tax on sugar could in fact serve as one tool to help fight this problem.
But would a sugar tax really work? Now this is something that is being debated at the highest levels of parliament at this very moment, which should tell you just how very complex the situation is. That being said, I firmly believe there needs to be a public debate too. What we do know is that around a third of all our children are leaving primary school overweight. Now you don’t need to be in the highest levels of Government to know that is a major concern, both for the effect it will have on that child’s life and the strain it is likely to put on the health service in years to come.
So one argument is that we don’t need a tax, we need education. But how can someone argue that education works when this many children are leaving their first form of education having learnt next to nothing? Okay, so then the argument is for better education. Because in reality, a lot of people would probably still buy a can of coke if it was 10p, 20p or maybe even 30p more. But would they still buy it if they new exactly what they were drinking and how much damage it was doing to them?
Of course education and taxation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Look at cigarettes. Awareness of the damage that smoking causes has grown massive amounts in the last 30 years, along with higher taxation on tobacco. Both of which have worked together to bring the number of smokers in this country to its lowest ever level. So should sugar be given the same treatment?
I guess you need to ask why people are opting for foods with so much added sugar over healthier, natural alternatives. If the answer to that question is laziness then I could see taxation being effective. If people choose sugary food and drink because they can’t be bothered to prepare their own meals then making pre-prepared meals more expensive probably will work. But that isn’t the case for so many. In truth, a high taxation on added sugar will hit the poorest hard. They opt for these foods because they simply can’t afford the time or the money needed to purchase healthy alternatives.
Let’s look at cigarettes again for a second. The intention with higher taxation there wasn’t to encourage people to switch to a healthier alternative, it was to eliminate the need for the product entirely. Well trust me, a sugar tax is not going to mean that we get rid of sugar for good. For one we actually need a certain amount of sugar to maintain a healthy diet, we don’t need a certain amount of tobacco or nicotine.
We know that sugar isn’t the only demon in our food. There are all sorts of chemicals that we need to be restricting. And this only tackles one area. And rushed decisions could lead to the added sugar being replaced with a chemical alternative that we don’t have any information about at all. Essentially pushing us straight back to square one!
Then there are food manufacturers themselves. Their marketing has been criticised as being the enemy to better education. With their TV ads being accused of giving off false messages and trying to glamorise unhealthy foods. And this is all topped off with characters that our children relate to and then want to eat anything associated with them!
So you can see why I called this a complex issue. But it is a debate for the public to have. We know there is a problem here and that is a good start. I don’t think anyone would argue that better education is required, or that a sugar tax wouldn’t work to a certain extent. But would it hurt too many people financially to be justified?