Soft drink giants fizzing over 20% tax call

GPs called for fizzy drinks to be taxed to help tackle spiralling levels of obesity. Picture: Katie Lee
GPs called for fizzy drinks to be taxed to help tackle spiralling levels of obesity. Picture: Katie Lee
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SOFT drinks manufacturers have dismissed claims from doctors that a tax on products such as Coca-Cola and Irn-Bru would help reduce levels of obesity.

• The soft drinks industry has rejected the idea that a tax would help

• An industry body said their products account for just 2% of calories in an average diet

• They also said sales of fizzy drinks have fallen during the last decade

A report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), which represents nearly all of Britain’s 220,000 doctors, has recommended taxes of 20 per cent on sugary drinks for at least a year. The group is also calling for ministers, councils, the NHS and food organisations to take action against what it calls “the greatest public health crisis affecting the UK”.

The AMRC made the call in a report following a year-long investigation into rising levels of obesity, and has recommended ten key recommendations to address the UK’s status as “the fat man of Europe”.

However, Irn-Bru producer AG Barr said it “fully supported” the stance by the British Soft Drinks Association (BDSA) that a tax on fizzy drinks would not address a problem that could be attributed to “overall diet and levels of activity”.

BSDA director general Gavin Partington said that while fizzy drink consumption has fallen in the past decade, obesity levels have continued to rise.

He said: “We share the recognition that obesity is a major public health priority, but reject the idea that a tax on soft drinks – which contribute just 2 per cent of the total calories in the average diet – is going to address a problem which is about overall diet and levels of activity. Over the last ten years, the

consumption of soft drinks

containing added sugar has fallen by 9 per cent, while the incidence of obesity has been

increasing, and 61 per cent of soft drinks now contain no added sugar.

Soft drinks companies are also committing to further, voluntary action as part of the government’s Responsibility Deal Calorie Reduction Pledge.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Ministers have no plans to introduce a tax on sugary drinks. We cannot create a tax on sugar drinks under existing Scotland Act powers – the fiscal powers to set any kind of national tax on food or drink products or on specific nutrients like sugar are reserved. We will, however, continue working with industry representatives across key themes like reformulation, promotions and reducing the salt and calorie content.”

The AMRC report also recommends banning the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm, giving councils the power to limit the number of fast-food outlets near schools and leisure centres, and allocating £300 million to be spent over three years on weight management programmes.

The World Health Organisation has identified soft drinks as a probable cause of obesity, particularly among children. It found that children with a high consumption of soft drinks rich in free sugars are more likely to be overweight and to gain excess weight.

Scotland has one of the worst obesity records in the developed world, behind only Mexico and the United States, with more than a quarter of adults in Scotland classed as obese, according to a report by the Association for the Study of Obesity last year.

Over the past 15 years, obesity in Scotland has risen from 17 per cent of adults aged 16-64 in 1995 to 27 per cent in 2010. The government has introduced several measures to prevent the rise of obesity, including a Healthy Eating, Active Living initiative.

Between 2007 and 2008 obesity cost Scotland more than £457m, and the government estimates that the costs to the NHS will almost double by 2030, with about 40 per cent of adults expected to be classed as obese.