In his Budget earlier this year the chancellor, George Osborne, announced the introduction of a sugar tax on the UK soft drinks industry. It’s a move that had been discussed at length and for some time – campaigners have been vociferous, and Jamie Oliver, arguably the most high-profile supporter, had already introduced a sugar levy in his restaurants.
The tax will be introduced in 2018 and will be levied on companies producing or importing sugary drinks, with a two-tier structure depending on the volume of sugar they contain. The principal driver is the fight against childhood obesity, which the World Health Organization has called one of the most serious public health challenges for the 21st century; one in ten children starting primary school in England is classed as obese.
Of course, excessive consumption of high-sugar foods and drinks doesn’t just cause obesity. It was reported earlier this year that the number of children in England having teeth removed due to decay had risen for the fourth consecutive year. If the sugar tax helps bring about a reduction in childhood tooth decay, then it would be an additional and welcome benefit.
There are concerns, however, that the tax alone is not sufficient to achieve the adjustments in attitudes and behaviour that are deemed necessary to bring about lasting change. Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: “While welcoming what is obviously a positive step in addressing the current children’s dental health crisis and ‘obesity epidemic’ we are facing in the UK, we feel that the measures outlined do not go far enough and more pressure needs to be put on manufacturers.”
Similarly, the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has warned that the introduction of a sugar tax “will not provide a miraculous quick-fix solution” to high levels of tooth decay among children.
It seems that the tax would have more impact if it were included as part of a more holistic programme of action and education. In their Sugar Reduction report, published last October, Public Health England said: “It is unlikely that a single action would be effective in reducing sugar intakes. The evidence broadly suggests that a structured approach, involving restrictions on price promotions and marketing, product reformulation, portion size reduction and price increase on unhealthy products, implemented in parallel, is likely to have a more universal effect.”
If you’re a dentist or health professional with an opinion on the sugar tax and how effective it might be, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or jump over to our Facebook page.