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Thursday, January 07, 2016

Is a sugar tax back on the table?

Today's Times returns to one of my obsessions, the need to cut the amount of sugar in our diet. I write in this context as somebody who is addicted to the stuff so anything that helps is welcome.

The paper says that tax on sugary drinks is being reconsidered by ministers after evidence showed that the measure will help to tackle the obesity crisis:

In a softening of a previous stance that firmly ruled out any form of sugar tax, government sources now suggest that senior ministers are studying the option closely.

They have been struck by mounting evidence that increasing the price of fizzy drinks is an effective way of discouraging unhealthy eating, sources said.

Senior figures in Whitehall have been pushing for a tax to be included in a childhood obesity strategy that is due to be published next month.

It was disclosed this week that there are more than four million diabetics in Britain, and that two thirds of adults weigh too much. Britain spends £6 billion a year on the medical costs of obesity and a further £10 billion on diabetes.

The Times understands that some form of levy on unhealthy drinks is back on the table as evidence of its effectiveness and popularity emerges. A study published today but seen by ministers several weeks ago shows that a 10 per cent tax on sugary drinks in Mexico led to a 12 per cent fall in sales.

Several people involved in discussions remarked on a shift in tone at the top of government. One Whitehall source said: “We want to learn the lessons from examples such as the sugary drinks tax in Mexico. This does not mean a tax on sugar — your bag of Tate & Lyle isn’t about to become more expensive. And there are still lots of arguments against. But we have not ruled anything out and no decisions have been made.”

This is good news. As I have reported previously, from 1990 to 2000 consumption of sugar went up by around a third. A significant quantity of that is sucrose, which is 50 per cent made up of fructose, added to processed food to compensate for the removal of fats.

As a result the average person consumes 150 pounds of sugar each year, that is the equivalent of approximately seventy five one kilogram bags or 33 tablespoons each day.

Sugary drinks is just one part of that problem, but we need to start somewhere and that a tax on them is being reconsidered.
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