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Sugar tax gets positive reception

Tagged In:  Physiotherapy

The new 'sugar tax' has been welcomed by health professionals, many of whom have been calling for urgent action to tackle obesity.

The recent introduction of a tax on sugary drinks came as a welcome surprise for organisations representing doctors, dietitians and physiotherapists. In October last year, Prime Minister David Cameron seemed to rule the idea out, commenting that he 'didn't see a need for a tax on sugar'. This was despite the Food for Thought report by the British Medical Association (BMA) calling for more action to limit sales of unhealthy food and drink, a report by Public Health England recommending a levy of between 10% and 20% on high-sugar products and a study in the British Medical Journal showing that similar tax in Mexico led to a 12% reduction in sales. Not to mention the persistent lobbying of TV chef Jamie Oliver, who told MPs on the House of Commons' Health Committee that a tax on sugary drinks would be the 'single most important change' that could be made in the child obesity strategy.

In January 2016, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens signalled his support for the pro-taxation campaign by proposing a 20% levy on all sugary drinks and foods in NHS cafes by 2020.

The Department of Health Shared Delivery Plan: 2015 to 2020 includes the following pledge: "We will reduce rising levels of obesity – particularly among children – and make sure that health and care services work with individuals, communities and industry to deal with this issue in radical and innovative ways..." In response, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) argued that, by introducing a sugar tax, the government could invest in public health and tackle the growing obesity crisis. This was supported by Jenny Rosborough of Action on Sugar, who quoted a recent survey by the charity showing that a 40% reduction in free sugars added to sugars-sweetened beverages (SSBs) could lead to a decline in overweight and obese adults by approximately half a million and one million respectively, and in turn prevent between 274,000 and 309,000 cases of obesity-related type 2 diabetes over the next 20 years.

More needed

While the unexpected announcement of a 'sugar tax' has been widely welcomed, many health professionals have said that much more needs to be done to tackle obesity effectively. It's obviously a highly relevant issue for dietitians and the British Dietetic Association (BDA) has called for a sustained plan of action: "Whilst this is a positive step towards tackling the issue of sugar consumption, we are clear that such a move should be part of a wide range of public policies to reduce the frequency and amount of sugary drinks consumed by children and adolescents."

This was echoed by the CSP's Chief Executive, representing over 50,000 physiotherapists, who said, "This is a first step towards taking significant action on obesity. We look forward to seeing the government's full strategy on this issue." As for doctors, the BMA described the tax as a 'welcome step forward' that 'could help to begin to address the obesity crisis amongst young children'.

Public Health England says that almost 25% of adults, 10% of four to five year olds and 19% of 10 to 11 year olds in England are obese. It's estimated that treating obesity and its consequences costs the NHS around £5 billion each year. As the government continues to develop its full obesity strategy, many will share Jamie Oliver's hope that they will 'take more bold actions, which we so urgently need to give our kids a healthier, happier future'.  

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