Scots doctors call for sugary drinks tax

A 20 per cent tax should be imposed on sugary drinks to subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables, the body representing doctors has said.
BMA Scotland wants to impose a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks. Picture: ContributedBMA Scotland wants to impose a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks. Picture: Contributed
BMA Scotland wants to impose a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks. Picture: Contributed

The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland said the move would help tackle obesity and diet-related health problems.

It said adult obesity in Scotland could reach 40 per cent by 2030, as it called for comprehensive action to promote healthier diets, particularly among children and young people.

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Dr Sally Winning, deputy chair of BMA Scotland, said: “Doctors are increasingly concerned about the impact of poor diet on patients’ health, which is not only a significant cause of ill health and premature death, but a considerable strain on NHS resources.

“For many leading brands of sugar-sweetened drinks, around a glass full has been found to contain a worrying nine or more teaspoons of sugar.

“While these drinks are high in calories they are of limited nutritional value and, at a time when the intake of sugar by people in Scotland already far exceeds recommended levels, we are increasingly concerned about how sugary drinks contribute towards health conditions like diabetes.”

The call for a 20 per cent tax follows similar comments from members of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh last month.

Both organisations have pointed to the experiences of other countries, such as Mexico, where the imposition of a tax has led to a reduction in consumption.

Dr Winning added: “The price of fruit and vegetables has risen more than 30 per cent since the start of the recession, with the majority of the population not consuming them at the recommended levels.

“Financial measures must be considered to regulate the price of healthier products, such as fruit and vegetables, through subsidies.

“If only 13 per cent of children in Scotland are meeting the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables, yet 40 per cent of children report consuming non-diet soft drinks on a daily basis, then we need to address this imbalance, which particularly impacts on individuals and families affected by food poverty.”

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The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) has insisted that the case for a tax is not compelling, while the Conservatives have also criticised the proposal.

The party’s health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “What a singularly unimaginative and utterly depressing proposal from the BMA.

“If we start taxing sugary drinks where on earth do we stop? And in any event, the evidence is nothing like as compelling as the BMA suggest. An ‘Irn Bru’ tax is not the way forward.

“So far politicians and the medical profession generally have been far too pussy-footed in directly challenging the public to understand their own responsibilities, far too eager to find excuses for poor lifestyle choices, far too equivocal in giving direct advice or implicitly criticising complacency and indifference.

“A fundamental change in behaviours is required but simply crying out for more for legislative taxes will win neither hearts nor heads and will make the educational challenge even more problematic.”