We are periodically reminded by scientists, researchers and lawmakers that if something is not done, the NHS will go bankrupt. Treating type 2 diabetes and its complications costs the NHS around £9bn per year.
The real amount of related costs that a high sugar diet is inflicting upon the NHS and the economy, is unknown. What is clear, however, is that in Britain we consume more than the daily recommended amount: no more than five per cent of our total dietary energy should come from added sugar. Most people consume at least twice that.
We know too that the obesity rate in the UK is growing. A United Nations report published in 2013 found that 24.9 per cent of British people were obese. Last March, the report Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet - England, 2016, published by NHS Digital, stated that “if current trends persist, one in three people will be obese by 2034”.
According to the Scottish Health Survey, in 2015, 65 per cent of adults aged 16 and over were overweight, including 29 per cent who were classed as obese.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has confirmed a tax on sugary drinks in 2018, with the main goal of fighting child obesity. The UK is not the first country to introduce what many call a ‘sugar tax’. Mexico and California introduced a similar tax a few years ago. While its effectiveness is yet to be determined, both markets experienced a fall in sugary drink consumption of almost 10 per cent.
In the UK, the new tax is expected to generate roughly £1.5 billion in the next three years, to be largely spent on school sports. Here are where my doubts lie. I think the efficacy of such tax largely depends on how the revenues will be spent.
For those on a low income it is often cheaper, or more convenient, to buy pre-made meals and sugar-filled products than healthier counterparts. With a few exceptions, most fruit is more expensive than sweet products like biscuits. The same can be said for soft drinks which can be bought in two litre bottles cheaper than one litre bottles of pure fruit juice.
Vegetables can be cheap. However, they often require skills and time to be cooked. Besides, many children find them unpalatable. Rather than buy food which may go to waste, families on low incomes end up making difficult choices and struggling to eat healthy food.
In my opinion, revenues from the ‘sugar tax’ should be redirected to British agriculture and into healthy eating campaigns in schools.
Fruit and veg would become more affordable and British farmers would be sustained. Families, regardless of income, would be able to afford healthier products, and children taught to appreciate them.
Marco Gori is a student based in Glasgow.