Health experts have suggested a 'sugar tax' is needed to curb the nation's sweet tooth but manufacturers say this will not work. Mary Isokariari reports.
 
A global drinks brand has criticised the proposed 'sugar tax' for preventing consumers from making their own lifestyle decisions. 
 
Coca-Cola UK, who recently introduced red warning logos on cans to indicate high sugar content, said increasing the cost of fizzy drinks and confectionery would not curb the nation's sweet tooth. 
 
A spokeswoman said: “Coca-Cola Enterprises is strongly opposed to the introduction of any tax that erodes the purchasing power of households and that targets one type of food and drink under the pretext of addressing a public health concern. 
 
“We have seen from other countries that the introduction of new taxes does not do anything to address the issue of healthy lifestyles or obesity. Denmark repealed their ‘fat tax’ in 2012, just a year after its introduction, because they found it was not working and was significantly and adversely impacting Danish businesses.”
 
Last month, a paper co-authored by scientific advisers to the Action on Sugar campaign and published in the journal BMC Public Health suggested sugar intake should be slashed to 3 per cent of calorie intake to minimise the “costly burden” of tooth decay. 
 
“Despite the use of fluoride and improvements in preventive dentistry, the burden of dental caries remains unacceptably high worldwide,” the authors wrote in the journal BMC Public Health.
 
Current guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) state adults should get no more than 10% per cent of their daily calories from “free sugars” or added sugars with a target of 5%.
 
'Free Sugars' are defined as those added artificially in processed food, fizzy drinks and confectionery, rather than occurring sugars found in whole fruits and vegetables.
 
Study author Aubrey Sheiham, Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health at UCL said “reducing sugar intake would make a huge difference.” 
 
She added: “Of course we consider that the new daily recommendation guidelines of 14g a day – the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar is realistic.
 
“When schools and publicly funded institutions reduce the sugars intake to below 3% of daily energy from free sugars then many wise manufacturers will reduce the sugars contents of their products as they have done in many countries already.”
 
“The WHO Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group (NUGAG) are recommending 5% of daily energy from free sugars. So what we are calling for is not much different from what they are suggesting. Those levels of sugars will not only markedly reduce the rates of tooth decay but also reduce obesity and diabetes,” added Sheiham.
 
Sugar Tax
 
The study examined health records from across from the world in order to assess diets and dental health of large populations of both adults and children. 
 
Sheiham said: “Only 2% of people at all ages living in Nigeria had tooth decay when their diet contained almost no sugar, around 2g per day. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where 92% of adults have experienced tooth decay.”
 
She believed more needed to be done to curb tackle this “largely preventable disease” and warned the treatment of tooth decay was more expensive than that any other illness apart from cancer.
 
“A sugars tax should be developed to increase the cost of sugar-rich food and drinks. This would be simplest as a tax on sugar as a mass commodity, since taxing individual foods depending on their sugar content is an enormously complex administrative process," added Sheiham. 
 
“The retail price of sugary drinks and sugar rich foods needs to increase by at least 20% to have a reasonable effect on consumer demand so this means a major tax on sugars as a commodity. France has very successfully introduced a sugar tax that is very popular and has led to a decrease in sugars consumption.”
 
A 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains 35g of sugar and just half will exceed the daily recommended sugar levels if new guidelines are introduced.
 
Co-author Professor Philip James, honorary professor of nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recommended a series of radical policy changes; including the removal of vending machines offering confectionery and sugary drinks in schools and public places.
 
He said: “Our top priority is not to allow the idea of a magic single bullet to solve the problem to be developed.
“There now needs to be an explicit revision of population dietary goals as it relates to every aspect of government policy.
 
“We need to make sure that use of fruit juices and the concept of sugar-containing treats for children are not only no longer promoted, but explicitly seen as unhelpful.”
 
He added: “The level will depend on expert analyses but my guess is that a 100 per cent tax might be required.”
But Gavin Partington, Director General from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), said more evidence is needed before a 'sugar tax' is introduced.
 
He said: “We should rely on more than Professor James’ guesswork to imagine the impact of a tax that would push prices up for millions of consumers with no clear impact on public health as politicians in Denmark have found.”
 
“The authors of this report appear to have ignored the strict rules on what drinks are allowed to be sold in schools and drinks containing added sugar are not permitted.
 
"To suggest that fruit juice should not be promoted, when evidence shows it helps people towards their 5 fruit and veg a day, suggests they are rather more concerned with their campaign than with delivering public health outcomes.”
 

Criticisms 

Leading trade association, the British Retail Consortium said that more research was needed to assess whether a sugar tax would have a lasting impact. 
 
A spokeswoman said: “In the UK, the two main political parties have stated that they are not contemplating introducing sugar taxes. Therefore UK retailers have not actively considered the implications. 
 
“We have been following developments in other countries. Any government considering this approach needs to understand whether the aim is to generate revenue or to de-incentivise customers from purchasing and consuming products containing sugar.
 
The evidence in countries which have introduced taxation of sugary foods is weak; it so far shows a very limited or no effect on the volume of sales of taxed foods.”
 
Saleem Sadiq, the award-winning owner of Spar Renfrew, on Paisley Road in Renfrew, Scotland, believed the sugar tax would not affect business. 
 
He said: “Personally I think the sugar tax is a good idea, but from a retail perspective, people are already coming in asking for low sugar and low calorie chocolate.
 
“We [retailers] won't lose any profit as people will still choose to buy sugary stuff. It's now up to manufacturers to get the right products on the shelf.”
 
The recent UK launch of Coca-Cola Life in August as well as the adoption of colour coding scheme are the latest in a series of initiatives to promote a healthier lifestyle while addressing the levels of obesity. 
 
A spokeswoman said: “We are always listening to our consumers to create new, innovative products that meet their preferences.
 
Coca-Cola Life is our newest innovation that provides consumers with an option with a third fewer calories and a third less sugar and that is sweetened from natural sources. It has been really well received in Argentina and Chile, and we think that consumers in Great Britain will love it too.” 
 
She added: “Nutritional labelling including front-of-pack nutrition labelling, is an important tool that can help consumers make informed choices, this is why we have championed voluntary front of pack nutrition labelling since 2007." 
 

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