Drinks packed with sugar have long been problematic to the health of the nation. The Foundation has supported a number of policies designed to curb sugary drinks consumption, including a report backed by more than 60 organisations calling for a tax on sugary drinks.
The report1, compiled by Sustain entitled ‘A Children’s Future Fund – How food duties could provide the money to protect children’s health and the world they grow up in’, makes three main recommendations for Budget 2013 it believes would help to improve children’s health. They are:
- Introduce a sugary drinks duty for the UK which, for example at 20p per litre, would raise around £1 billion a year;
- Ring-fence the majority of money raised from a sugary drinks duty for a Children’s Future Fund, which could be spent on improving children’s health by, for example, providing free school meals, or sustainably produced fruit and vegetable snacks in schools; and
- Give an independent body the responsibility to oversee how the sugary drinks duty is implemented and make sure the revenue is spent effectively.
This is not the only report to suggest such a course of action. The National Heart Forum published a report2 last year also calling for the introduction of a duty on sugary drinks to reduce consumption levels and raise money to support public health programmes. The growing support and backing for these programmes cannot be ignored by the health industry.
In the UK 60 per cent of adults are considered overweight and obese. Diet-related illnesses cost the NHS £6 billion each year, and conditions such as type II diabetes and heart disease have also increased, placing a substantial burden on the healthcare system and the economy.
As well as combatting the growing obesity epidemic, successful implementation of the recommendations would greatly benefit the oral health of children today and those in future generations. Eating and drinking sugary foods and drinks is the biggest cause of dental caries in the UK, so by proposing the introduction of a duty on sugary drinks there will be an inevitable reduction in consumption and benefits for both general and dental health.
In 2011, soft drink consumption rose to 14,685 million litres, an incredible 2,295 million litres more than in 20013. On average that is 193 litres per person per year, a frightening yet unsurprising amount, given the levels of obesity and dental caries in the UK.
Cutting down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks is one of the Foundation’s key messages, and any measure which helps reduce how often teeth are exposed to sugary foods and drinks is one the Foundation wholeheartedly welcomes. As a nation we have turned from three square meals a day to seven to ten snack attacks including constantly sipping sugary drinks and this may be one reason why improvements in dental health have been slowing down.
The potential benefits of the tax far outweigh any negative press they may receive, which is why the reports put forward by Sustain and the National Heart Forum are another step in the right direction.
Sales of soft drinks may be falling, but their current numbers still pose a problem to the health of the nation. A complete ban runs the risk of limiting our ability to tax these products and raise essential funds. Clear direction on why these taxes are a good idea will help the profession communicate this message to patients, not to mention giving the public a greater understanding of their purpose.
If we can work towards applying a duty on fizzy drinks the extra revenue raised can be re-invested in schemes that will aid further improvements in oral health throughout the UK. A tax rate of 2p per 100ml or 20p per litre on soft drinks with added sugar would potentially raise around £1 billion a year. If current sales figures remain as they are this is a substantial amount of money.
If, as expected, the tax leads to a decrease in fizzy drinks consumption, we are looking at a win win situation.
Although it is clear any decision needs to be carefully considered, a number of successful precedents have been set across Europe. Denmark’s tax on saturated fat was one of the most significant introduced by any country.
Hungary has imposed taxes on sugary drinks, sweets and snacks, and France and Algeria have both implemented tax on soft drinks. After considering all of the evidence available, the British Medical Journal stated ‘The strongest evidence is for a tax on sugar sweetened beverages’3.
Here in the UK three in every ten children starting school have tooth decay, and around one in three 12 year-olds have visible dental decay. These figures support the need for all health bodies and professionals across the country to work together in safeguarding children’s oral health.
3. O. T. Mytton, D. Clarke, and M. Rayner, “Taxing Unhealthy Food and Drinks to Improve Health,” British Medical Journal 344 (2012).