In this essay I’m going to be discussing the following: why the government has introduced a sugar tax and the results of this initiative, future plans to increase this scheme as well as potential alternate methods to improving the nation’s health without punishing the consumer.
The government last year joined the ranks of many other nations around the world in introducing what has been dubbed the ‘sugar tax’, joining the ‘sin taxes’ that are already currently in place. This new one however currently only targets sugary drinks like fizzy drinks. All fruit juices with no added sugar and drinks with high milk content are exempt. Its official name is the Soft Drinks Industry Levy. This was originally introduced in Apr 2018 as an attempt to mitigate childhood obesity. With the levy now in place, this gave the producers a choice of either reducing the sugar content to avoid paying the levy or passing the cost of the levy onto the consumer.
The government is targeting sugary drinks as a starting point, this is because one in ten children are obese by the age of five, this later rises to one in five by the age of 11. These figures put a scary reality on the situation regarding national health. These alarming figures are the results from a survey conducted by the Health Survey for England in 2017 which also found an alarming increase in obesity in adults. It is this survey and many protests from health campaigners that has sparked the initiative.
While the government have already made pretty big steps since introducing the Levy in an attempt to mitigate young people from purchasing these products including removing advertisements during prime-time television. There is still a lot of work the government is yet to do. Just recently the government have been pressured by campaigners to impose a ‘calorie tax’ on unhealthy foods such as sweets and desserts.
The government can do all they can with all the power they have and yet, one can be assured that the general public will still choose to consume the unhealthier food over the more nutritious choice due to a few factors. The first and most popular reason is the taste. The majority of the population consider taste to be the defining factor when it comes to food choice. People choose to pay extra for a high sugar food than a low sugar food as they don’t like the taste of artificial sweeteners. Whilst the levy may have little to no effect on the consumer, it had made immediate effect on the producers when it was first introduced in April 2018. Companies including Britvic and Oasis started actions to reduce added sugar content almost immediately after rumors of the Levy were first initiated. So far, the initiative has removed an estimated 90 million kg of sugar from the nations diet.
Whilst there is not much more the government can do without upsetting the UK population by increasing the over the till price on other unhealthy products, they can back schemes to increase education on the matter in schools. The best place to start of course is primary schools. Many years ago, as a child in primary school we were tasked with a project to research the impact on smoking. It was this project that put me off smoking completely, I didn’t even want to try one, thankfully neither did my brother. This was despite the fact that both our parents were heavy smokers. Whether or not this project was part of a government backed initiative to reduce smoking amongst young people and teenagers I am not sure however it did go a long way into me making the choice to not pick up smoking.
The government should not be focusing on taxing the consumer on unhealthy dietary choices, but should be looking for alternative methods of reducing obesity within the UK. However, if they were to focus on the tax of these unhealthy food choices, then perhaps they should reduce the tax on the healthier choices at the same time. This would help matters massively as a 2014 Cambridge University study found that it’s three times more expensive to eat healthy than unhealthy.