Last week the United Kingdom passed what is becoming known as the ‘sugar tax’.
So what is the sugar tax?
The tax, or levy is intended for high-sugar drinks, especially fizzy drinks. These are particularly popular with teenagers and children. At this point ‘pure fruit juices’ and ‘milk-based drinks’ will be excluded from the legislation. Smaller producers will also be exempt.
From 2018 it will be imposed on companies according to the volume of the sugar-sweetened drinks they produce or import. According to the BBC there will be two categories:
- Drinks with over 5 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres will be taxed at a higher rate than drinks with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres. Dr Pepper, Fanta, Sprite and Schweppes Indian tonic water would fall into the first category and they are expected to be levied at 18p (34c) per litre.
- Drinks with over 8 grams per 100 millilitres will be taxed at a higher rate again. Full-strength Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Lucozade Energy are expected to fall into this category and it is thought they will be levied at 24p (45c) per litre.
Why just on drinks? Why not chocolate and lollies too?
- Drinks may not be seen as a treat like chocolate, biscuits or cake – many people who tend to drink them do so every day.
- Many drinks are extremely high in sugar. Typically they can contains enough sugar – about nine teaspoons – to take someone over their recommended sugar intake in one go.
- Children get a third of their daily sugar intake from drinks, and for teenagers they are the number one source of sugar overall.
- These drinks generally have no nutritional benefits, often labelled ‘empty calories’.
Where is the money going?
The government estimates the tax will raise approximately £520 million (AU$970 million) annually. Importantly, these funds will be spent on fitness programs and extended school hours for children.
The aim is to encourage more physical activity. It is hoped that this help stem growing rates of obesity.
There have been a range of views from the public, health professionals, the government and the food and drinks industries.
Jamie Oliver: Anti-sugar campaigner: “We did it!!! A sugar levy on sugary sweetened drinks ... A profound move that will ripple around the world ... business cannot come between our kids health. Australia, pull your finger out.”
Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli: Charles Perkins Centre: "To avoid an obese future and chronic disease the tax is one strategy to decrease their intake along with another range of measures to address other dietary shortcomings and halt obesity.”
Professor Chris Peck: Dean of Dentistry University of Sydney: “A key factor implicated in dental decay is consumption of sugary food and drinks and it is essential that we consider a tax to curb the rise in this disease.”
Professor Tim Gill: Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, Charles Perkins Centre: “It has the support of every major Australian health NGO and medical and health professional organisation as well as widespread support within the general public.”
What does the HRI think?
The Heart Research Institute welcomes this discussion, and its role highlighting an important issue.
With Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of Australian adults are overweight or obese this is an important debate. Related concerns include dental health, type 2 diabetes and the health and well-being of people in general.
We will be following this development closely and look forward to keeping you updated.