MPs call for sugar tax to tackle obesity crisis

30 Nov 15
A tax on sugary drinks and tougher planning powers for councils to limit the proliferation of fast-food outlets are needed to curb the growing childhood obesity problem, according to MPs.

The Commons health committee today issued a series of recommendations it said would tackle the issue. As well as a controversial “sugar tax”, with proceeds to be invested in children’s health, suggestions included tougher regulation of the marketing, promotion and pricing of unhealthy food and drink, clearer labelling of products’ sugar content and universal school food standards.

Although exercise can be enormously beneficial to keeping weight under control, the MPs said a reduction in calorie intake “must lie at the heart of a successful [anti-obesity] strategy”.

Health committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston highlighted that one third of children leaving primary school are now overweight or obese, something that would have serious consequences for their future health and wellbeing.

“There are many causes and no one single or simplistic approach will provide the answer,” she said.

“We therefore urge the prime minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through bold and wide-ranging measures within his childhood obesity strategy.”

Without action, the problem will become far worse, Wollaston warned.

“A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible.

“We believe that a sugary drinks tax should be included in these measures with all proceeds clearly directed to improving our children’s health.”

Responding to the report, Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said councils could do much more on obesity if they had the right resources and criticised reductions in councils’ public health budgets.

“The difficult cuts announced by the government in the Spending Review last week – an annual real-term cut of 3.9% in councils’ public health budgets over the next five years – on top of a £200m in-year cut already announced this year, will have a major impact on the many prevention and early intervention services carried out by councils to combat child obesity,” Seccombe said.

“At a time when the government has issued its firm commitment to the NHS Five Year Forward View – with prevention at its core – it is short-sighted to then cut the public health budget.”

According to the health committee report, the NHS spends £5.1bn every year on treating obesity and its consequences, while type 2 diabetes (often caused by obesity) consumes 9% of NHS spending. By contrast, just £638m is spent on obesity prevention.

  • Vivienne Russell
    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and

Did you enjoy this article?