Sweet surrender: UK plans to fight child obesity with soft drinks sugar tax

© Stefan Wermuth
The British government has announced plans to impose a sugar tax on soft drinks companies and invest the funds raised into health and sports projects for schoolchildren.

The step comes as part of a strategy to tackle obesity among children. Statistics shows that every third child in Britain is obese by the time they leave primary school.

Under the new plan, food and drink enterprises will cooperate with the authorities to lower sugar levels in foods most eaten by children by 20 percent, with a 5 percent target in the first year, according to a consultation document published by the Treasury.

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The government's health agency Public Health England will check the progress twice a year.

Obesity costs Britain's National Health Service (NHS) billions of pounds every year, Junior Finance Minister Jane Ellison said in a statement.

Soft drinks are the only huge source of sugar for children that is totally unregulated, according to the government. A can of soda contains nine teaspoons of sugar, with an average child getting much more than the recommended daily intake by having just one portion.

The companies, potentially impacted by the new regulations, are not happy with the plan, claiming that a third of children aged two to 15 is already obese or overweight.

The levy was a “punitive tax that would cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity,” said Gavin Partington, director-general of the British Soft Drinks Association as quoted by Reuters.

The suggested tax will cut the sector’s contribution to the economy by £132 million (US$173 million) and put at risk some 4,000 jobs, according to the report by Oxford Economics.

By imposing the new levy on sugar drinks, Britain follows the example of France, Belgium, Hungary, Mexico and Scandinavian countries that have been levying similar taxes for years.