Sugar consumption is on the rise for children, as well as obesity rates, and products such as biscuits and confectionery are a likely target for expanding a sugar tax levy to tackle health and economic burden.

England’s chief medical officer has recently called for a sugar tax levy to expand on other products after soft drinks, as obesity and diabetes-related diseases are taking a huge toll in the population’s health and the NHS. So far, a voluntary agreement with the food industry has not worked, and health policy-makers are considering taking further action against food manufacturers that have failed to deliver healthier products for consumers, and especially for children.

Sugar consumption has gone too far for children – health costs are huge

The latest figure from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) collected from 2014 to 2016 show that sugar consumption makes up for more than 10% of daily calories intake across all age groups, while the officially recommended intake is no more than 5%. Notably, the daily calorie intake from sugar rises to 13.5% of 4- to 10-year-olds, and 14.1% of teenagers’ (11- to 18-year-olds), respectively.

This high level of sugar consumption is set to increase the incidence of the obesity-related diabetes type 2, which already costs (directly and indirectly) the NHS about £9bn a year. The number of children treated with diabetes caused by obesity has soared 41% over the last three years as NHS figures reveal, while obesity rates for children aged from 10 to 11 years are record-high.

The industry has failed to conform

Food manufacturers already participate in a voluntary sugar reformulation plan to tackle childhood obesity, but they have failed to meet targets, with two in three major brands not making any effort.

The government has set a target of 20% reduction on a 2015-basis in the level of sugar in product categories that contribute most to the intakes of children up to 18 years by 2020, starting from 2017. According to PHE’s report on sugar reduction and wider reformulation program report on May 2018, there have been reductions in sugar levels in 5 out of the 8 food categories under scope, although missing the 5% reduction target set for the first year of the program.

In detail, there has been a 2% reduction in total sugar per 100g in branded and private label products overall; breakfast cereals, spreads and sauces, and yogurt product categories recorded a 5 to 6% reduction in sugar content from 2015 (baseline) to 2017, but sugar content in biscuits, chocolate confectionery and other sweet confectionery product categories remained unchanged.

A sugar tax levy is a fair and efficient policy after all

It’s unrealistic to think vegetables and confectionery as substitute products, and health advisors and policymakers should give up healthy nutrition motivating campaigns. It is more feasible to achieve healthier nutrition by forging manufacturers producing healthier formulations.

A sugar tax disincentive can serve this purpose as the soft drink levy has proven, with half of manufacturers reducing sugar on their products. A higher price of products through a new sugar tax levy would impact consumers, especially those of lower income that are characterised by inelastic demand for these products, but that seems the only way to achieve healthier nutrition for the UK population.

The right of consuming cheap but unhealthy sugary products can be denied, especially for children: A bad choice cannot be considered as a choice; the proven long-term negative effect of a choice justifies its prevention, even if that means a nanny state.

Moreover, the cost should be transferred directly to those who adopt unhealthy eating habits similar to a higher private health insurance premium for those adopting an unhealthy lifestyle, otherwise, that cost would be passed to all consumers through increased health funding to the detriment of the NHS services.

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