Sugary drinks tax slammed by nutritionist

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Soft drinks are a significant source of sugar, according to National Diet and Nutrition Survey data
Soft drinks are a significant source of sugar, according to National Diet and Nutrition Survey data
Renewed calls to attack health problems by taxing sugary drinks have been slammed by a leading nutritionist, who claims cutting portion sizes and sugar content and tackling irresponsible retail promotions would be better.

“If you make things that are desirable more expensive, this has no impact on purchasing,”​ Dr Carrie Ruxton told FoodManufacture.co.uk. “Similarly, if you make things like fruit cheaper, that doesn’t incentivise people either.”

Taxing food to improve diets was also dangerous, because it could lead government to believe it could wash its hands of the problem of unhealthy eating. “Then, a few years down the line when it hasn’t worked, it would be wagging its finger at the food industry.”

Ruxton advocated making smaller format drinks more readily available. “The drinks industry should reduce portion sizes, so people can buy 150ml if they want.”

Cutting products’ sugar content was also viable, she said. Replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners was one way to do this, but the government should more effectively communicate scientific studies underlining the safety of such sweeteners to consumers, she said.

“The European Food Safety Authority has come out time after time saying artificial sweeteners are safe.”

Crackdown on promotions

Finally, she called for a crackdown on promotions encouraging over-consumption. She cited the example of one retailer she had seen recently. “The window was filled with two-litre bottles on two-for-one deals.”

The Children’s Food Campaign (CFC), which is associated with food charity Sustain, has called for sugary drinks duty of 20p a litre. It claimed it would save the National Health Service and public health budgets £39M over 20 years.

However, Gavin Partington, director general for the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “This is a poorly thought out political proposal which will hit the poorest hardest while doing nothing to curb obesity, the causes of which are far more complex than this simplistic approach implies.

“In fact evidence from France shows that while sales of soft drinks initially fell after a tax was introduced in 2012, they have increased since, with sales up 6% in the first four months of this year.”

The CFC claimed a 20p a litre duty on sugary drinks would reduce rates of diabetes, strokes, heart disease and bowel cancer in London by thousands. The cash generated could be used to set up a Children’s Health Fund, paying for programmes to improve children’s health and protect the environment in which they grew up, the organisation proposed.

According to research published in association with University of Liverpool academic Brendan Collins and FoodActive, the London boroughs of Croydon, Enfield, Southwark, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney would gain the most, the CFC said.

Diabetes, cancer

It said the findings indicated that over 20 years, the tax would reduce the cases of diabetes by more than 6,300 and prevent more than 1,100 cases of cancer. In addition, it would reduce strokes and cases of coronary heart disease by more than 4,300.

An interactive model of the research can be viewed on the Children’s Health Fund website. www.childrenshealthfund.org.uk​ 

Soft drinks were the largest source of sugar for children aged four to 10 years and teenagers, according to the latest National Diet & Nutrition Survey results.

The CFC plans to launch figures for the impact of a sugary drinks duty on the rest of England in early 2015.

CFC coordinator Malcolm Clark said: “A duty on sugary drinks of 20p per litre would be the most practical and effective way of tackling a significant source of unnecessary calories and sugar in children and young people’s diets.

“Mexico, France and Hungary have already introduced a sugary drinks duty, and their citizens are reaping the benefits.”

Lord Darzi, chairman of the London Health Commission, had previously stated his support for such a move and CitizensUK, an umbrella body for local community groups, also supported it, said Clark.

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