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Call for 'sugar tax' to curb child obesity

Campaign group gives UK Government a seven-point plan to cut sugar

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 23 June 2014

A campaign group has urged the UK Government to introduce a "sugar tax" to help curb obesity amongst children.

At the request of the government, Action on Sugar, a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health, has produced an action plan to discourage children from consuming foods and soft drinks with high levels of added sugar. Key proposals contained in the seven-point plan are the introduction of a sugar tax, measures to cut added sugar in food by 40% by 2020 and to cut fat in foods, and banning sports sponsorship by "junk food" companies.

One in five 10 to 11-year-olds in the UK is now obese, while one in three is overweight. The group says that if its proposed measures are implemented, the UK government would be the first country in the world to halt the obesity epidemic by reducing calories by 100kcal a day. 

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar said that obesity in children led to premature development of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure, and predisposed them to development of type II diabetes.

“These complications are extremely expensive to manage, and will cripple the NHS if the increase in obesity and type II diabetes is not stopped immediately,” he said. "Obesity is preventable if the food environment is changed, yet the current policies are not working.  The UK requires the implementation of this coherent strategy, starting by setting incremental sugar reduction targets for soft drinks this summer.  No delays, no excuses.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist and Science Director of Action on Sugar said: “It is really quite shameful that the food industry continues to spend billions in junk food advertising targeting children, the most vulnerable members of society. They even manage to associate sugary products with sport. Physical activity has a multitude of benefits but a child doing an hour of PE every day would be putting all to waste if they ended up gorging on a burger and chips and a packet of crisps washed down with a sugary drink. One has to run half a marathon to burn off those calories."

The seven- point plan calls for the government to:

  • Reduce added sugars in food by 40% by 2020
  • Ban all forms of targeted marketing of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods and drinks to children
  • Disassociate physical activity with obesity by banning junk food sports sponsorships
  • Reduce fat by 15% in ultra-processed foods by 2020
  • Limit the availability of ultra-processed foods and sweetened soft drinks as well as reducing portion sizes
  • Introduce a sugar tax to incentivise healthier food

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