The Irish Heart Foundation is continuing its call for the government to place a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.
THE IRISH HEART Foundation has said that celebrities and sports stars should stop advertising sugary drinks that are aimed at young people.
It made the call as a study from the British Medical Journal said that a 20 per cent sugary drink tax would cut number of UK obese adults by 180,000. The under 30s are likely to be the most affected as they consume the most sugary drinks.
The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) has been calling for a sugar tax for quite some time, and had been hoping that the Government would introduce a sugar tax in the 2014 Budget. However, this did not take place.
The BMJ study, by a British Heart Foundation research group, looked at the impact that a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks would have on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the UK.
Its results suggest that such a tax on sugar sweetened drinks would reduce the number of UK adults who are obese by 180,000 (1.3 per cent) and who are overweight by 285,000 (0.9 per cent).
Regular consumption of sugar sweetened drinks increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
The tax would be expected to raise £276m (€326m) annually and would reduce consumption of sugar sweetened drinks by around 15 per cent.
This revenue, say the authors, “could be used to increase NHS funding” or to subsidise healthy foods. But they stress that it “should not be seen as a panacea” and say further work is needed to clarify the level (and patterns) of sugar sweetened drink consumption in the UK.
Welcoming the study
Maureen Mulvihill, health promotion manager at the Irish Heart Foundation, said that they welcome the study, and that it echoes research which the same authors undertook in Ireland last year.
“They are essentially high in calories but low in nutrients,” said Mulvihill of sugary drinks. “Effectively they have no nutrients and are not serving a purpose in the Irish diet.”
She noted that the group most likely to drink such drinks are people aged 18-24, who are also least likely to engage in healthy behaviours.
Mulvihill described the failure of a sugar tax being put into place in Budget 2014 as a “missed opportunity” by the Government.
She noted the latest safefood survey, which aims at educating parents about how to keep their children at a healthy weight.
“If in tandem with the education and encouraging parents to stop serving children sugary drinks, the government also put a tax on these drinks, I think it would endorse the education message,” she said.
It would also help parents understand this taxation is for a public health need and it is not a tax for taxation’s sake.
The IHF would like to see any money raised through the tax used for being put back into health projects and tackling obesity.
When asked if there should be a stricter tax for energy drinks, which have raised health concerns, Mulvihill said: “I think at the moment it’s important that such an intervention tax is easy to administer so that it doesn’t fall at the first fence.”
She said that the IHF would be happy that these energy drinks would be targeted, and it would have “concerns about the whole marketing about these drinks – they are designed only for athletes and sports people expending high levels of energy”.
She pointed out that they tend to be marketed by sports people, but tend to be consumed by younger people who “will see them as ‘these athletes consume them they must be good’”. It is an “area of huge concern”, she said.
I think it would be very helpful not to have sports celebs endorse these drinks and product.
Mulvihill said that although drinks companies say they are not targeting young people, young people are still seeing the advertisements for the sugary drinks, and don’t tend to heed warnings on packaging.
As we would have the same rate of overweight people as the UK in terms of percentage, this means we would effectively see a similar percentage drop in obesity levels according to the study, pointed out Mulvihill.
“It sounds small but in reality it is causing a consumption shift and a health shift across a population,” she said. “10,000 less being obese is a major positive health move.”
The IHF will continue to lobby for a sugar tax, particularly in the run-up to next year’s Budget announcement.