Time for a sugar tax rethink

sugar taxMoney raised by the sugar tax should be invested in oral health strategies, not encouraging physical activity, Michael Watson says.

Earlier this month the ‘sugar tax’ regulations were debated in the House of Commons.

Or to be precise the Draft Soft Drinks Industry Levy (Enforcement) regulations 2018, were passed into law.

They will take effect from 6 April this year.

It was proposed by junior Treasury Minister, Robert Jenrick, who described the measure as ‘good news for our nation’s children and adults, our health, our teeth, our waistlines and the cost to the national health service’.

He pledged that ‘every penny’ of the money raised would go towards improving children’s health, including by ‘doubling the primary sports premium to improve the quality of PE in schools’.

So, if you believed or hoped that some of the money would go into measures to improve childrens’ oral health, think again – it won’t.

Sugar tax rollercoaster

Two years ago, when David Cameron was Prime Minister and we all thought we would be staying in the EU, it was widely supposed that a child obesity strategy, would include measures to prevent caries, seeing as the two conditions were both related to increased consumption of sugar.

It was widely assumed, not least by Tory MP and chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston who was a GP, that the key message on childhood obesity would have been about ‘the importance of reducing junk calories’, something that would have improved oral health as well.

Then we had the Brexit referendum, which led to the emergence of Theresa May as Prime Minister and a total rethink on the obesity strategy.

Oral health disappeared and the focus was moved from stopping youngsters guzzling on sugar-laden food and drink to getting them to run around the playing field, always assuming the school still had one.

The only thing that survived was the sugar tax.

Even that may not produce the revenue expected.

According to minister, Robert Jenrick, even before it comes into force in April, the Treasury estimate that ‘approximately half the soft drinks that were above the sugar threshold when the levy was announced in 2016 have been reformulated to reduce their sugar content’.

So even if we were hoping that there would be money from the levy available to pay for some public health preventive measures to improve oral health and reduce the scandal of child teeth extractions, there is not enough left.

Read Michael Watson’s previous blogs:

Time for a rethink

But what of the Government’s childhood obesity plan, which placed such great emphasis on increasing sport and other activity in schools?

New research found that a major programme to encourage sport and exercise in primary schools in the West Midlands was shown to have made no difference to obesity levels.

Children were given a year of extra physical activity sessions, a healthy eating programme and cookery workshops with their parents.

Families were invited to activity events, including sessions run by Aston Villa football club.

But at the end of 30 months, there was no difference in obesity between those children who took part and those who did not.

It should be back to the drawing board, in which case why not look again at putting some of the sugar tax into oral health preventive programmes in schools, which have been proved to be effective?

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