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GPs back campaign for sugar tax

RCGP supports TV chef drive for tax on sugary drinks

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 28 August 2015

GP leaders have backed a new drive by TV chef Jamie Oliver for a tax to be introduced on sugary drinks.

Mr Oliver, who has made a documentary on the subject due to screen on TV next week, wants a 20p per litre levy to be introduced on every soft drink containing added sugar.

On his website, Mr Oliver said in a statement: “This year my team and I started looking into sugar consumption and what we found led me to film a TV documentary that shows just how devastating the effects of consuming too much sugar can be. I have witnessed enough to give me a solid determination that we have to take action.”

The RCGP said it supported the aims of Mr Oliver – an honorary fellow of the College – in calling for a sugar tax, and his ongoing work to promote better food education and the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.

Commenting on the launch of his new TV show Sugar, Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP chair, said: “Sugar in our food and drink, whilst enjoyable in the short term, is our hidden enemy and can lead to numerous serious, chronic health problems, including dental decay, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

“Our diets, and those of our children, increasingly contain too much sugar - often concealed in drinks such as fruit juice and cereals, which can seem like the healthy option.”

Obesity-related conditions caused misery to many people and cost the health service £5bn a year, she added, saying: “GPs are not killjoys, but there is absolutely no place in our diets – particularly children’s - for sugary drinks.

“The college would like to see the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks to make them less affordable - an approach that has worked before with smoking where there was a notable fall in the number of smokers once prices were increased.”

Last month, the BMA published a report Food for Thought, which called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks to subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables, and help tackle the increasing obesity and diet-related health problems in the UK.

At the time, the BMA said a third of the population were projected to be obese by 2030, so there was a need for wide-ranging action to promote healthier diets, particularly among children and young people.

Professor Sheila Hollins, BMA board of science chair, said: “Doctors are increasingly concerned about the impact of poor diet, which is responsible for up to 70,000 deaths a year, and has the greatest impact on the NHS budget.

“We know from experiences in other countries that taxation on unhealthy food and drinks can improve health outcomes, and the strongest evidence of effectiveness is for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. If a tax of at least 20% is introduced, it could reduce the prevalence of obesity in the UK by around 180,000 people.”

In response to the BMA’s report, the Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “British food and drink companies are cutting the salt, saturates and calories in their products, which are offered in a range of portion sizes.

“Many foods and drinks are already taxed at 20%. Where additional taxes have been introduced they've not proven effective at driving long-term, lasting change to diets.”

The TV programme is due to be screened on Channel 4 on 3 September.

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