How Much Sense does the UK Sugar Tax Make?

The British government is planning to introduce a sugar tax starting 2018, or rather, a lemonade and soft drink tax. A sensible decision we think but not consequent enough.

Not surprisingly, this announcement was followed by a loud uproar by the sugar lobby claiming such taxes do not lead to changes. But the tax on sugared drinks introduced in Mexico in 2014 lead to a decrease in soft drink consumption by 12 percent within less than a year.

Research and documents in the US clearly demonstrate that the sugar industry has been lobbying for decades and influences politicians and professional associations to conceal the harmful effect of sugar on teeth.

It was also about time that statements such as “glucose supports physical activity”, used by a manufacturer of dextrose in their marketing campaigns, may no longer be used in the EU.

So, the last couple of weeks were good weeks for consumer health but if you ask us, the steps taken should have gone further: why only a tax on soft drinks? Why not all the other additionally sweetened “foods” too: fruit juices with additionally added sugar, candy, sweetened yoghurts?

The World Health Organisation WHO recommends a maximum of 10% of the daily energy demand to be covered by sugar. In an average adult that would equal 50g of sugar per day. Even better for our health as suggested by research would be half that amount, 25 g per day, that’s a bout 6 teaspoons of sugar. That is less than in one can of coke, less than in one container of low-fat fruit yoghurt or in a bowl of cereal.

Our partner Healthy And Safe Away From Home recently ran a number of workshops for high school students on the effect of sugar consumption on teenager sleep. Did you know that the group of 11 to 18 year olds have the highest added sugar consumption compared to other age groups and that their average sugar consumption lies at about 74g per day. Many adolescent are not aware of the higher sugar content of foods they consume: approx. 8 teaspoons (32 g) in one container of a “Bio Fairtrade chocolate yoghurt” or  30 g in a half-litre bottle of Lipton ice-tea. If they enjoy a Red Bull energy drink (one can of 355 ml), they are consuming 39 g of sugar equalling 10 teaspoons of sugar. As expected, coke is in that same category: a 500ml bottle of coke contains a whopping 54 g of sugar (14 teaspoons). As a comparison, one apple contains about 9 g of sugar (approx. 2 teaspoons). Apple juice on the other hand typically contains 120g of sigar in one litre (40 teaspoon!).

In case you think it’s only the “sweet” food, don’t be mislead: a store-bought Salami-Pizza contains about 11 g (3 teaspoons) of sugar, the glass of Naturaplan orange juice for breakfast about 22 g (or 6 teaspoons). One of our “favourites” is tomato ketchup: the Heinz version contains 8 g of sugar (2 teaspoons) per 30g ketchup (= 2 tablespoons). We could go on and on but you get our point.

Oh, and in case you’re thinking that doesn’t concern you because you take the healthy road and sue honey or agave syrup or the likes to please your sweet tooth: they are no better than white sugar. The fructose in agave syrup, a percentage of 70-90%, is as bad as white sugar for us.

Oh, by the way, the only age group in that mentioned study with a sugar consumption within the WHO recommended range were children under 3 years of age.

So, again, we think the soft drink tax is a first step but not consequent enough: we need to stop manufacturers veiling the true risks of high sugar consumption. According to the WHO, more than 1.4 billion people globally are overweight. And more than 0.5 billion are obese: the number of obese people have doubled since the 1980’s and are no longer a problem of first world or wealthy countries alone.

With the treatment of overweight and obese patients costing the British NHS 7.2 billion Euros every year, we hope that the income from the sugar tax on soft drinks, the government is expecting an additional income of approx. 660 million Euro, will be used to push for a ban on soft drink advertising in children’s TV channels, nutrition consultation in schools and directly targeted help and programmes for families with overweight children.