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Tax sugary drinks and restrict TV adverts

A tax on sugary drinks is essential to stop children getting fat, an influential committee of MPs urges today.

An end to two-for-one deals on biscuits, a ban on TV advertising for sweets and cakes before the 9pm watershed and limits on the size of chocolate bars and crisp packets must all be introduced to stem obesity, the health select committee recommends.
It says that sports stars and cartoons such as the Coco Pops monkey must be banned from use in selling unhealthy food to children, while food manufacturers must cut sugar content as part of a drive to change eating habits.

The industry reacted furiously, dismissing the recommendations as a “PR campaign by the health lobby”.
The report will add to pressure on the prime minister to rethink his opposition to a sugar tax as the government prepares to set out a childhood obesity strategy next month. Ministers have hinted at tough measures on promotion and marketing but David Cameron has ruled out new taxes.

The MPs say: “A sugary drinks tax is an essential part of a wider package of measures to tackle childhood obesity. We were told that action should be taken on all fronts, and that we no longer have the luxury of ‘picking and choosing’ between different actions, as it is clear that none of them will be sufficient on their own.”

A third of children weigh too much by the time they leave primary school, putting them at lifelong risk of conditions from diabetes to cancer and heart disease. Treating obesity costs at least £5 billion a year and Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, has warned that the health service will be overwhelmed if people do not stop getting fatter.

“We cannot continue to fail these children,” said Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the committee. “We urge the prime minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through bold and wide ranging measures.”
Her committee backs action stretching from factories through supermarkets to homes, which were made by Public Health England in a review for ministers. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, was criticised for refusing to publish the proposals until he was forced to back down by pressure from Dr Wollaston.

Today’s report concludes that exercise and education are not enough to prevent children becoming fat. “We believe that if the government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible,”

Dr Wollaston said that a 20 per cent tax on full-sugar drinks was justified because they were children’s main source of sugar and a levy could be tightly targeted on unhealthy products while “sending a clear message to parents” about the need to cut down.
The committee cites evidence from Mexico that the disadvantaged would cut down most if the price of sugary drinks rose.
It says that up to £1 billion a year raised by a levy should be earmarked for healthy eating initiatives in poor areas. A “sunset clause” could lead to the tax being scrapped if it failed to cut sugar intake.

Gavin Partington director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “This was not an inquiry in the conventional meaning of the word. It was part of the PR campaign by the health lobby to persuade ministers to introduce a tax on soft drinks.”

Source: - 30 November 2015