Extend success of UK sugar tax to cakes, biscuits and chocolate, experts urge

Estimated read time 4 min read

The sugar tax has been so successful in improving people’s diets that it should be extended to cakes, biscuits and chocolate, health experts say.

The World Health Organization wants the next UK government to expand coverage of the levy to help tackle tooth decay, obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.

The plea is published in the WHO’s bulletin, which urges governments worldwide to use the reformulation of food to address the growing crisis of excess weight.

Experts from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have analysed the outcomes of two flagship government policies intended to make food healthier – the sugar tax and sugar reduction programme, which were introduced in 2018 and 2015 respectively.

The levy on the soft-drinks industry led to a 34.3% fall in total sugar sales from such products between 2015 and 2020 and many fizzy drinks containing much less.

But the sugar reduction programme only yielded a 3.5% drop over the same period in the amount of sugar used in the manufacture of the everyday foodstuffs it covered, the experts write in their analysis for the WHO.

Dr Kawther Hashem, a co-author and lecturer in public health nutrition at QMUL, said ministers should trial a sugar tax-style levy on treat foods that still have almost as much sugar as they did as 2015 despite firms being asked to cut sugar by 20% before 2020.

That could be applied to three products that, according to figures from the government’s Office for Health Improvements and Disparities, have recorded only small falls in their sugar content – chocolate 0.9% less, biscuits 3.1% and cakes 3.2%, Hashem said.

It could also be used to cut the amount of sugar in sweetened milk-based drinks such as Frappucinos, milkshakes and bubble tea, she added.

The analysis says: “Given the proven success of the soft drinks industry levy at incentivising reformulation, we therefore recommend that policymakers consider applying a similar levy to other discretionary products that are key contributors to sugar intake.”

The sugar tax has helped to reduce obesity in teenage girls and bring about a fall in the number of children admitted to hospital for tooth decay, research has found.

The authors, who include Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health at QMUL, also run the health research and campaign groups Action on Sugar and Action on Salt.

“Unhealthy food which contains too much salt, sugar and fat and lacks in fruit, vegetables and fibre is now the major cause of death in the world. The new government needs to control the food industry rather than being subservient to its products,” MacGregor said.

Legally-enforceable limits on salt, sugar and fat would force manufacturers to make products healthier and

skip past newsletter promotion

would reduce strokes, heart attacks and cases of cancer, many of which are linked to bad diet, he said.

The director of the Obesity Health Alliance, Katharine Jenner, said switching from ministers asking firms to voluntarily make their products more nutritious to compelling them to do so through a sugar tax-type levy was necessary after “over a decade of failure from both government and industry” to improve dietary habits.

She also backed the experts’ call for ministers to ensure baby and toddler food becomes less sugary.

“Supporting healthier diets in the early years by taking sugar out of commercial baby food would be a great first step. There is an incorrect assumption that baby foods such as pouches and snacks are already regulated above and beyond other food products … with regards to nutrition, the opposite is true.

“These products are often very high in sugar, but covered with misleading labelling and health claims, making parents believe the products are healthier than they are.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said it could not comment because of the general election.

Source: theguardian.com

You May Also Like

More From Author