Tax for Tat

The DiAthlete’s view on the Chancellor’s Sugar Tax

Chancellor George Osborne has announced in his 2016 budget that there is to be a new UK levy on soft drinks – a sugar-tax imposed in a bid to tackle childhood obesity and the prevalence of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. The big question from here is:

Will it actually work?

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Coming from the perspective of someone living with type 1 diabetes, a form of diabetes which isn’t too often highlighted in the media with no relation to poor health or lifestyle choices – type 1 occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks and kills insulin producing beta cells – there is a view against this new sugar-tax given the fact people with type 1 often rely on sugary drinks to help pick their blood glucose levels up when hypoglycemic. A bad diabetic ‘hypo’ can lead to a diabetic coma at the worst stage. Therefore families dealing with type 1 diabetes could well look at this move and question whether they will be paying additional taxes to treat low blood sugars in future.

Whilst a sugared drink is a strong choice for many living with type 1 diabetes to quickly pick their levels up safely, there are a number of alternative options. Energy gels can be supplied for medical exemption certificate holders on the NHS, whilst it was mentioned that pure juice drinks, such as orange juice, wouldn’t be taxed and can do the job with the carbohydrates and natural sugars they possess.

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is a global pandemic – at the 2015 World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver the International Diabetes Federation revealed there’re currently over 415 million adults living with diabetes in the world, up from 387 million in 2013 and estimated to rise over 600 million within 20 years. The most alarming fact is that 90% of this figure is linked to type 2 diabetes.

On his 2016 budget speech the Chancellor told MPs “you cannot have a long-term plan for this country unless you have a long-term plan for our children’s health care.”

Indeed this is a statement you cannot disagree with; however, it all comes down to whether that plan is the right one or not. TV chef Jamie Oliver certainly believes so. He has been an active sugar-tax campaigner for a number of years and had already introduced the tax into his own restaurant chains. On Instagram Jamie celebrated the news as a ‘profound move that will ripple around the world.’

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I caught up with a few connections in Copenhagen, Denmark recently, who spoke about the Danish ‘fat-tax’ which took place between 2011 and 2012 before being abolished. In a similar bid to support the country’s health care, the Danes introduced a tax on any food with over 2.3% saturated fats; however, what occurred was a rise in the cost of living and a negative effect on local businesses. The Danish people would hop over the borders to Germany or Sweden and buy their food products from there instead. Whilst prices of deemed unhealthier foods went upwards, the costs of healthy foods stayed up. The Danish fat-tax seemingly failed to decrease levels of obesity, although it was only active for one year.

Despite this not working in Denmark, there is a difference in the fact that the tax which Osborne has put forward is not on fatty foods, it’s on soda drinks. This method has been quoted successful in the world, where it began in Mexico in 2014. Mexico was a country with one of the highest levels of obesity and they introduced a 10 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, cutting soda drink sales by a major 12 per cent. Whilst the sales-cuts in these sugary drinks seem positive, there is narrow evidence for the time being on whether this has reduced the growth of obesity in Mexico – only time will tell!

A difference between Mexico and the UK is our economies. There is a lot more poverty in Mexico and therefore one would imagine a sugar-tax would be more effective over there, where people generally have less money.

One of the key features in the London skyline is of course the London Eye – or should I say Coca Cola London Eye? Perhaps it is a small contradiction that when the Chancellor was writing his 2016 budget in Westminster, facing him across the river was a giant wheel, which lights up red at night to promote a heavily-sugared soda brand.

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The Chancellor further announced that funds from the UK levy on the soft drinks industry would be invested into school sports, expected to raise £520 million in its first year. If this is the case it’s a real positive. If we want to look after our children’s health and long term future, get them active! It could be argued this would actually be more of a benefit in decreasing obesity in young people than taxing sugary drinks! We need to encourage our youth into sports, let’s face it when you look at sports such as football where we haven’t won a trophy since 1966, a lot needs to be done! I spoke at a school recently and when I questioned the class about their favourite sports many referred to their X-Box games…

On a personal view my feeling is that whilst a sugar-tax on soda drinks is a solution and a brave move by Mr Osborne to impose, the real way to tackle the issue of growing diseases related to poor health, such as type 2 diabetes through obesity, is in education. Taxes are one thing but the advertising of poor health brands will still exist. The only way people can learn about what the best lifestyle choices are for them is to be taught, from young ages, about the long term effects poor dieting and lack of exercise can have. Ultimately time will tell on theimpact of this sugar-tax – these taxes won’t come into play for another 2 years – but simply education is the key factor to make a difference.

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