Give us sugar tax funds to cut childhood obesity, councils urge government

Author: Caroline White

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Local councils have called on the government to divert a share of the cash derived from the sugar tax levy over the past year to them to help fund public health schemes to cut childhood obesity.

In the 12 months since the levy on sugar-sweetened drinks came into force, manufacturers are thought to have stumped up an estimated £250 million.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the funds could go towards protecting and improving children’s oral health, providing early years play equipment and activities, while also encouraging healthier eating and exercise.

Currently, the money goes towards school sports and breakfast clubs. But councils, which are responsible for public health, say they are uniquely placed to work with local groups and health services such as sports clubs, volunteers and weight loss classes to keep children active.

Instead of the levy sitting outside of the public health system, it should be part of a joined-up approach with schools to tackling obesity and physical activity, they argue, particularly as public health funding cuts have slashed £531 million off council budgets in the past five years.

Between 2012-13 and 2017-18 the proportion of Year 6 children in England who were obese rose from 18.9 per cent to 20.1 per cent. The rate has been rising since 2011.

Nearly nine out of 10 young children who have teeth removed in hospital have preventable tooth decay.

Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, Councillor Ian Hudspeth, said: “In a year since the soft drinks industry levy was introduced, manufacturers have cut the amount of sugar in their products while hundreds of millions of pounds have been raised in revenue. It is vital that the funds raised so far are invested in the best possible way to ensure that our children get the greatest start in life.

“However in order to truly tackle our child obesity epidemic, councils need to be able to use this money to intervene earlier and do more to ensure that our children stay healthy, active and develop good eating habits, which they can continue into adulthood.”

This would help ease pressure on already overstretched public services and save the country money on obesity-related treatment in the future, he argued.

“Councils are uniquely placed to tackle obesity, given their links to local health, community and voluntary services, as well as schools. This includes the costs of running the government’s National Child Measurement Programme in schools, as well as programmes such as weight management services, exercise referral schemes and offering free or reduced-cost sport.

“Giving councils a say in deciding where the revenue from the soft drinks levy is spent will help lead to better, more innovative oral health education so that parents and children are supported to understand the impact of sugar on teeth and the importance of good oral hygiene.” 

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