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Is it time for a sugar tax?

Posted by on February 17, 2014

Voice of the Future, Society of BiologyIn advance of Voice of the Future 2014, Rebecca Nesbit considers a question she would like to ask MPs

The health effects of too much added sugar have been in the news recently, raising questions about whether we should introduce a sugar tax. Recently, Mexico started to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.

Recent research suggests that people with high levels of added sugar in their diet are more likely to die from cardio-vascular disease. This adds to the research on other problems associated with sugar consumption, from tooth decay to obesity.

When we decide how to tackle these problems, we have to consider the causes. It seems both that people choose sugary foods despite knowing the health warnings, and that many people are unaware of the level of sugar in certain foods.

There are as many as seven cubes of sugar in a can of cola, which may not come as a surprise, but bread, pasta sauce and yoghurts can all be high in added sugar.

So how can we tackle the problem? Tax? Regulations? Education? The solutions aren’t obvious. You can’t simply ban everything which has a high percentage sugar in, particularly when bags of sugar are, quite reasonably, on sale. It’s also just like alcohol – pricing policies affect people whose health is affected by drinking and not people who are drinking responsibly.

Each year the Society of Biology organises Voice of the Future, where the select committee format is reversed and it is the MPs who must take questions. The Society of Biology is looking for people between the ages of 16 and 35 to submit questions, and four representatives will be chosen to visit the House of Commons and put their questions to MPs and advisors.

The question I would like to ask is ‘would you consider taxing foods based on their sugar content?’ Or, ‘how could you use taxes to ensure people have healthier diets, and would this be appropriate?’ Perhaps, ‘what options would you consider for ensuring the level of added sugar in our diets is reduced?’

If you would like to attend but no questions spring to mind, there are plenty of places to do some research. My question idea came from the Healthy Evidence forum, where people discuss health stories and share information. The forum is part of the Sense About Science Ask for Evidence campaign which encourages people to question the evidence behind news stories, marketing claims and policies.

For more ideas, the Society of Biology policy pages have information about Government policies, from badgers to biofuels.

One Response to Is it time for a sugar tax?

  1. Barbara Hall

    I fully support the motion that food should be taxed on the basis of sugar content. Toxic efffects of sugar on the body and the brain, well beyond tooth decay and calorie content, have been known for over 40 years and the warning was clearly expressed by John Yudkin in his book “Pure, white and deadly”, recently re-printed. For more information on sugar toxicity see also the 2009 video by Prof Robert Lustig “Sugar the bitter truth” on Youtube. In 2013 Prof Lustig participated in two symposia in the UK devoted to the subject of sugar.
    In analogy to tobacco: smokers, fully aware of the harmful efffects, continue to smoke, but by doing so contribute to the country’s finances (the NHS included) through the tobacco tax and by the fact that they die early and are not therefore burden on the pension system. This is in contrast to the sugar eaters who are getting free ride on the NHS resources.

    Barbara Hall PhD FSB