Childhood obesity is a marketed disease

Jamie Oliver savours hard-fought victory for a tax on sugary drinks
news Health Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 09:57

In twenty-four months from now, the United Kingdom (UK) will levy a tax on the soft drinks industry. While talk of the tax has been in the air for a while, the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne this week has come as a surprise.

The first to welcome the sudden announcement was celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who campaigned tirelessly for it. “We did it!” he said on Instagram, saying it was a “profound move that will ripple around the world.” He posted a video on Facebook urging other nations including Australia, Canada and Germany to follow Britain’s lead. Oliver has a sugar levy in his restaurants. The Chef who enthrals millions with his culinary talents has now turned his focus to breastfeeding.  Read Oliver’s speech on the Parliamentary Hearings on Childhood Obesity last October 

The food and sugary drinks industry has left no stone unturned in their bid to prevent the kind of taxation that the UK has just written into law. “We all know one of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity is sugary drinks…I am not prepared to look back at my time here in parliament, doing this job and saying to my children’s generation, ‘I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease but we ducked the difficult question, Osborne said as he announced the new measure in his annual budget statement. The Chancellor said money thus raised – an estimated £520 million per year – will be spent on funding sports in primary schools.

Civil society networks have welcomed the tax. “This is a really important victory for children’s health. Not only will this tax on sugary drinks encourage people to shift towards healthier drinks, but it sends out a wider message our need to cut down on sugar, and for businesses to reduce the sugar in their products,” Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign said in a statement.  Campaigners have focussed on sugary drinks because unlike a piece of chocolate or cake, they are not seen as an indulgence but something normal that people drink everyday. The tax on drinks with more than five grams of sugar per 100 millilitres will be come into force in two years’ time. A 100ml Fanta has 11.2 grams of sugar, Coca-Cola 10.6 grams and Red Bull 11 grams. Pure fruit drinks and milk-based drinks are exempt from this tax.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health issues facing the world. The situation is India, the diabetes capital of the world, is alarming. Public health experts say childhood obesity has been increasing at a worrying rate especially in urban India. Obesity is defined as a 20% excess of calculated ideal weight for age, sex and height of the child. Studies show that an estimated 15 to 20% of Indian children are obese and 30% are at the risk of falling into this category. Key determinants of childhood obesity are unhealthy dietary habits and absence of physical activity.

Sugar may not be the next tobacco, but like tobacco, it is an acquired taste and the debate about why, what and how much it will get rough in the coming years. Experts say tax on sugary drinks must be accompanied by strict restrictions on unhealthy food marketing online and all forms of media including prime time television advertising. Read our earlier piece on this here.

With Inputs.

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