Life sciences minister George Freeman has predicted tough penalties for food companies who continue to produce food that leads to unhealthy lifestyles, in particular the sugary drinks and snacks that contribute to the U.K.’s growing obesity epidemic.
The Telegraph reported that Freeman is the first minister to publicly back a “sugar tax,” telling a Hay Festival audience that “where there is a commercial product which confers costs on all of us as a society, as in sugar, and where we can clearly show that the use of that leads to huge pressures on social costs, then we could be looking at recouping some of that through taxation.”
Freeman isn’t alone in his views: senior figures at the Department of Health, including chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies and chairman of the Food Responsibility Network Susan Jebb, have publicly backed a “sugar tax.”
According to a 2013 UN Food Agriculture Organisation report, obesity levels in the U.K. have more than trebled over the last 30 years and one in four U.K. adults is obese.
In “Measuring Up,” a 2013 report on the nation’s obesity crisis by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Professor Terence Stephenson said that obesity was “the biggest public health crisis facing the U.K. today.”
“It’s now time to stop making excuses and instead begin forging alliances, trying new innovations to see what works and acting quickly to tackle obesity head on — otherwise the majority of this country’s health budget could be consumed by an entirely avoidable condition,” he continued.
Will Freeman’s warning force food companies to be more health-conscious? Perhaps Tesco will lead the way: the supermarket giant has made a commitment to reduce added sugars by five percent per year, for the next four years, in all its own-label soft drinks. This means that after four years around two teaspoons of sugar will have been removed from a can of Tesco own-label fizzy drink.
Some fizzy drinks contain as many as up to 11 teaspoons of sugar in one 330 millilitre can so there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement.
Visit NHS Choices for more information on sugar guidelines and tips on how to reduce your daily sugar intake.