Pressure mounts on Cameron over fizzy drinks tax

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Speculation is growing that the child obesity strategy will include a tax on sugary soft drinks as health campaigners pile pressure on David Cameron.

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Ministers have reportedly not ruled out introducing the measure, which was previously vetoed by the Prime Minister last year.

The National Childhood Obesity Strategy is due to be published next month.

A front-page article in yesterday's Times (Thursday) said that Government ministers are seriously considering a tax on sugary drinks.

It follows research published in the BMJ this week, which shows that a 10 per cent tax on sugary drinks introduced in Mexico has been successful in cutting the number sold, since it was brought in two years ago.

Following heavy opposition from the beverage industry, a UNC Food Research Programme study found the tax resulted in an accelerated month-by-month decrease in soda sales during 2014. This culminated in a 12 per cent drop in December compared to pre-tax levels.

Last November's report from the Commons Health Select Committee called for ‘bold and urgent action’, highlighting that one fifth of children are overweight or obese as they begin Reception and a quarter of disadvantaged children are obese by the time they leave primary school.

MPs have argued that unhealthy drinks are not essential sugar items, so a levy on full sugar soft drinks would not be a blanket ‘sugar tax’ on the poorest people.

The report also recommended strong controls on price promotion of unhealthy food and drink, as well as on marketing and advertising.

The Times article also quotes Sarah Wollaston, who chaired the committee as saying, ‘I don’t think that there’s a closed door – it just needs enough people to make the case.’

Writing in next week’s Nursery World Dr Wollaston says, ‘It is very clear that just giving parents and children information about eating healthily will never be enough to solve the problem – to get to the heart of it, we need to change the environment in which we buy and eat food, and we need to make the healthiest choices the easiest choices.

‘While a tax on sugary soft drinks may be a controversial policy, in our view this is a proportionate response given the scale of the problem we now face with childhood obesity. Some 500ml bottles of soft drinks contain as much as 14 teaspoons of sugar – that’s more than double a child’s daily recommended amount of sugar in one bottle.’

A sugary drinks tax has also gained significant public support, with 150,000 signing a petition in favour started by Jamie Oliver.

Mr Oliver tweeted, ‘Good to see sugary drinks tax back on the table. Over to you @david_cameron.’

  • Read Dr Wollaston's opinion column in Nursery World on Monday.
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