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Is the 'Sugar Tax' too sweet?

Posted on: January 27, 2016     |     0 comments

As calls for the ‘Sugar Tax’ are louder than ever, is it the answer?

It's undeniable. We are in the grip of an obesity epidemic and a diabetes boom that has been driven by no end of cheap, easy access to simple, convenient food filled with about as much nutritional goodness as your average mattress. I'm in no position to take the moral high ground on this matter, a (slightly) overweight former pastry chef who's been keeping local dentists in fast cars since '87, but I'm worried.


The average weekly shop for me now is mostly fresh food I'm proud to report, with one treat for the whole week (Haribo is my vice) as I have a genuine fear of developing diabetes. We, as a country, seem to be sleepwalking towards an epidemic. We're unashamed of our chip shop culture, and there are some incredible ones out there, but yes, if we are totally honest, we do overindulge in all manner of convenience foods. Type 2 Diabetes is a lifelong disease, and in most cases, entirely avoidable. The complications, including vision loss, blindness & kidney failure cannot be ignored as they are now. Deaths caused by a poor diet are topping 70,000 a year in the United Kingdom alone and related illnesses are costing the NHS billions of pounds – and the figures are rising fast.


Exercising for 30 minutes, 3 days a week, takes up less than 0.5% of a week. An hour a day, 3 times a week is still less that 1%. Eating healthier is something we can all benefit from and we also need take more time to find out where our food came from, what goes into it and so on.


Putting a tax on sugar & high sugar products may help, but it may be that proves ineffective. Paying more for products doesn't affect everyone, and if someone wants something bad enough they will get it. And of course, supermarkets will still promote offers to get customers in the door so this would need to be effectively curbed.


We also need to take action at a youth level and start introducing children to a wider variety of foods soon on. Children will invariably pick up on their parents eating habits, and deep set habits are hard to break. In schools, there have been great strides in the variety of food available, but so long as sugary drinks are available, it will undo any progress.


So is hitting consumers in the wallet the answer? It looks like a short to medium term measure; the long term focus has to be on education. We used to be a farming nation, and we still have some of the best produce in the world, our nation’s natural larder is the envy of most of the world. But it seems to be getting left behind in a world where everything is getting faster. We should be looking at ways to get kids to see what happens on our farms, how things are grown, how they end up going from the field to fork. We need to take a look at what we are eating and what effect it has. The chances are, if your granny wouldn’t know what it is, it’s probably not that good for you.


A far more tailored approach could be the answer. With premiums on health or home insurance for example, with lower costs offered to those who regularly attend a gym or sports club, with a clocking in method used to prove attendance if not effort, though we are in an age of health & fitness trackers now, so even that is a possibility.


Those going to the gym or sports club benefit from a health point and financial point – Gyms & health clubs could offer reduced priced memberships or obtain government funding to make up membership costs, which would likely cost less than obesity & related illnesses is currently costing. Not only that, with a physically fitter nation - one of our national teams actually win something! (yes yes, 1966 – but that was 50 years ago)


We need to take steps to ensure that people are not only aware of the benefits of a healthy diet, but to show people what to do with fresh food and how to make something that’s not only good for them, but tasty too, otherwise the point will be lost. An ideal place to start this would be in schools, expanding Home Economics to focus on what produce is available seasonally, how to prepare food and how to get the best out of produce. Once the skills are developed, they are there for life.


Whatever the solution, it needs to be effective, and it needs to be implemented soon.


Is there something else we should be doing?


Let me know your thoughts.

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