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Public health advisers urge Government to introduce sugar tax

Public health advisers have urged the Government to introduce a tax on sugary foods and drinks in a bid to tackle the obesity epidemic, an official report has confirmed.

The document has been published by the Guardian, following delays in its release that have seen MPs accuse health secretary Jeremy Hunt of leaning on advisors to suppress the evidence.

Its lead author, Dr Alison Tedstone, director of diabetes and obesity at Public Health England (PHE), had indicated support for a sugar tax under cross-examination by the Commons health committee earlier in the week.

Now the full report – which includes a review of the evidence for policies to cut the population’s sugar intake – has been made available online by the Guardian, confirming that emerging evidence from other countries has shown such taxes do work.

The report says that ‘research studies and impact data from countries that have already taken action suggest that price increases, such as by taxation, can influence purchasing of sugar-sweetened drinks and other high-sugar products at least in the short term with the effect being larger at higher levels of taxation’.

And among eight key recommendations, advisers say the Government should ‘introduce a price increase of a minimum of 10% to 20% on high-sugar products through the use of a tax or levy such as on full-sugar soft drinks, based on the emerging evidence of the impact of such measures in other countries’.

Other recommendations include calls for a crackdown on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and on price promotions such as two-for-one deals at supermarkets, as well as on food reformulation – through a programme of ‘gradual sugar reduction in everyday food and drink products, combined with reductions in portion size’.

It comes after health committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston MP became embroiled in a row with the health secretary – accusing him of leaning on PHE to suppress the evidence – and called on PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie to publish the document.

But Mr Selbie insisted he could not release it for fear of undermining the Government’s obesity strategy, which is due to be published later this year.

The PHE chief recently told Pulse the evidence for a sugar tax was not particularly strong and that other measures were more likely to be beneficial.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Whether you support this sugar tax is one thing , what Agent Hunt did of betraying procedural justice is another matter.
    Without any doubt , he is the worst health secretary this country has ever had.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The above comment is mine

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  • Although there has been a lot of coverage both in the lay and professional media it is important to hear both sides of the argument on this issue. Please see the BMJ rapid response titled "Sensational or Sensible Public Health Policy Making?" here to get the other side of the argument. http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h5626/rr

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  • As usual Hunt does not want to upset big business-eg banks, the sugar industry, media.
    However, he is more than happy to "lean on " junior doctors, consultants and GPs.

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