Sugar has found itself increasingly under the spotlight in recent months. From doctors to politicians, journalists to Jamie Oliver, everyone has a viewpoint. And nothing has come under fire more than sugary drinks. But are the sugar tax proposals really the way forward? And just how harmful is sugar?
According to a recent survey, the average person in the UK consumes 700g or 140 teaspoons of sugar every single week, significantly more than the levels deemed to be safe by health experts. Sugar intake has been closely linked with weight problems and is thought to be a key contributor to the levels of obesity in the UK. Heightened levels of sugar in the blood also take their toll on the liver and kidneys, resulting in conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.
The World Health Organisation's guidelines state that just 5% of our diet should be made up of sugar, but recent statistics in the UK suggest that we as a nation are taking in considerably more than that. More worrying still, those consuming the most sugars are children.
A National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that children aged 11 - 18 were in fact taking in 15.6% of their daily energy through sugars. And much of this is ingested in the form of drinks.These kind of worrying statistics have led to recent lobbying for the introduction of a sugar tax.
Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has been among the most vocal asking for government to take steps to both educate children about the dangers of over-consuming sugar and enforce stricter regulations on drinks companies. This is supported by a report produced by Public Health England outlining a need for a tax of up to 20% on all high sugar products. In light of these findings, the NHS recently announced that just such a 20% sugar tax is to be imposed in hospital cafes by 2020.
The introduction of a sugar tax has been particularly successful in other countries, with the British Medical Journal promoting Mexico as a prime example of why a tax on sugar would be beneficial in the UK. As one of the most obese countries on the planet, Mexico was the poster country for soda consumption. The preferred thirst quencher for adults, children and even babies, one soft drink brand is even considered to have magical powers in the highlands of Chiapas. Since being introduced in 2013 however, the sugar tax has led to a 12% reduction in sales, but with the Prime Minister saying that he would rather avoid its implementation, are there more reasons against or for the sugar tax?
Tackling obesity head on
Whilst Mexico’s story provides hard facts about just how successful the introduction of sugar tax can be in a nation highly addicted to sugar, many individuals are looking elsewhere for solutions. Jargon free labelling and better education are just two routes that are being pursued to reduce the influence of this killer. With the number of people deemed overweight or obese increasing on a daily basis, and statistics regarding diabetes and cardiovascular disease not lagging far behind, taking precautions to control weight, calorie intake and the prevalence of added sugars in search of better nutrition is an important step for all.
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