FGDP(UK) calls for sugar tax on milkshakes

milkshakeThe Faculty of General Dental Practice (FGDP) (UK) says high sugar milk-based drinks should not be exempt from the government’s planned sugar tax.

Responding to a treasury consultation on the tax’s implementation, the FGDP(UK) argues that despite the nutritional benefits of milk, the large amount of added sugar in flavoured milk drinks means they are ‘likely to carry far greater disbenefits than benefits to children’s health [sic]’.

Milk is a vital source of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iodine, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, and the FGDP(UK) recognises its nutritional importance, particularly for young children. However, the Faculty points out that a 300-500ml bottle of milkshake will typically contain at least the 35g (nine teaspoons) of sugar found in a 330ml can of cola, and in many cases over 60g (15 teaspoons) of sugar – more than twice the recommended maximum total sugar intake of 24g a day for seven- to 10-year-olds, and three times the 19g a day maximum recommended for four- to six-year-olds.

The new government has reaffirmed its commitment to the tax, which will charge manufacturers 18 pence per litre for drinks with total sugar content above five grams per 100ml, and 24 pence per litre for those above eight grams per 100ml.

However, drinks containing 75% milk are to be exempt, and the FGDP(UK) says this proportion is far too low, as most high sugar milkshakes contain at least 90% milk. The faculty is calling on the government to raise the threshold to 95%, in line with the requirements of the School Food Standards, as this would encourage manufacturers to reformulate their products, and consumers to switch to no-added-sugar alternatives.

Dr Mick Horton, the faculty’s dean, said: ‘Drinks are now children’s biggest dietary source of sugar. A quarter of five-year-olds have tooth decay, rising to one in three among 12-year-olds, and tooth extraction is the number one reason children are hospitalised.

‘As dentists, we know that children should be encouraged to drink water and pure milk, and Public Health England agrees that sugary drinks have no place in a child’s daily diet. 

‘The sugar tax is a major public health measure with the potential to help tackle high levels of child tooth decay, but exempting high-sugar milk drinks risks parents and children just switching from one high sugar drink to another in the mistaken belief that milkshakes are a healthy alternative. The government should require drinks to be at least 95% milk to be exempt from the sugar tax, and in the longer term it should remove the milk exemption altogether.’

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