Britain Is Aware of Sugar’s Dangers But Still Won’t Tax It
The British government has finally released a report on the longstanding effects sugar has on both England’s public health and economy—a report that was originally scheduled to be released all the way back in July.
Photo via Flickr user William Warby
Each and every day, the world's roughly 7.3 billion human inhabitants are confronted with the disconcerting truth that they themselves are contributing to the demise of not only their way of life, but also their very planet.
We also have to wrestle with the fact that someone created the Furby. But this brings us to the larger point: If we the human race are going to actively and continually commit acts that we know are harmful to us and those around us, shouldn't our governments maybe step in and deter us from our nastiest habits?
The UK apparently thinks... not so much.
The British government has finally released a report on the longstanding effects sugar has on both England's public health and economy—a report that was originally scheduled to be released all the way back in July. In fact, here's a link to an announcement back in July saying the release was imminent… even though it wasn't. And although the report shows that the dangers of sugar on the British population are undeniable, Prime Minister David Cameron is reluctant to do anything about it, like raise taxes on the massive sugar industry.
Sugar Reduction: The Evidence for Action was finally released to minimal buzz last Thursday by Public Health England, the English governmental body tasked with the goal to "protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities." The long-overdue report paints a horrendous picture of public health in England thanks to sugar. It also presents a litany of shocking statistics to nerve-racking effect, like the fact that one in ten British children between the ages of four and five suffer from obesity. And that health-related issues cost Britain's National Health Service roughly $78 billion each year.
The study goes on to include a spate of recommendations from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. These are ways in which the government might be able to cut down sugar consumption from the current 10 percent of daily caloric intake to 5 percent. Recommended initiatives include implementing a 10 to 20 percent tax on "high-sugar products," which are the "largest single source of sugar for children aged 11 to 18 years old."
In case you were wondering, the report states that if implemented, the 5 percent measure would save the lives of 77,000 people, as well as roughly $22 billion for the NHS over the next 25 years.
Too bad British Prime Minister David Cameron is having none of this shit. His office told The Guardian that they felt there are "better ways" to combat child obesity than imposing a sugar tax, one that is championed by the likes of Jamie Oliver and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Maybe this isn't so shocking, considering the report was delayed largely due to the actions of Jeremy Hunt, Cameron's own Health Secretary. Could it be that the PM is simply confusing the wellbeing of the UK with the wellbeing of his wallet and the wallet of the sugar lobby? Some are sure to speculate that this is so.
Last fall, Berkeley, California became the first city in the United States to pass a tax on any and all sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks. Yet Berkley most certainly isn't alone; Mexico's congress put into effect a country-wide one-peso-per-liter tax on sugary beverages and an eight percent sales tax on junk food back in 2013. Berkeley's efforts are still far too young to analyze, but Mexico's endeavor seems to have actually payed off, with soda sales in considerable decline.
In the meantime, the other, less hard-hitting recommendations in the report may be a way out for the PM that won't piss off big soda too badly. These recommendations include restricting ads aimed at kids, regulating sales at supermarkets, and changing the standards used by the government when it buys food.
Still, according to the government's own report, a sugar tax is the best way to get Britain healthier. Sounds like it's unlikely to happen there anytime soon, though.