A short summary of the current sugar debate in the UK

Diabetes costs England’s National Health Service approximately 10 billion pounds a year (the majority of patients with diabetes have type 2, that is related to weight). In order to tackle this weight problem, in 2011 the coalition government introduced the Responsibility Deal. According to the deal, food manufacturers and supermarkets can pledge to reduce the calories in their food and drink. But this intitiative has, by majority consensus, largely failed. And this should have been obvious from the start, because no food manufacturer or supermarket is going to volunteer to make their products less appealing by reducing sugar content.

The other – less popular and as yet unimplemented – option, is to introduce a tax (20 percent) on sugary drinks. But this is unpopular with many people (who have cried ‘nanny state’) because they see this as an unpardonable interference by the government in their private affairs. Many have also pointed out that the tax will not solve the problem of obesity because it will only deter the poor, while the better off will still be able to afford the drinks. Moreover, it will be unfair to those people who do enjoy sugary drinks but keep in shape.

The only solution is to make healthier foods more easily available and at subsidies rates (it has been suggested that the sugar tax be used to fund these subsidies). Because people tend to buy food high in sugar because it is cheap, gives a boost of energy and is far more easily available than healthy food. And this creates a vicious cycle because not only is sugar addictive (the more you ingest, the higher tolerance you have for it), but because such food is empty of nutrition it leaves you feeling hungry and the body craves sugary foods when it is hungry. And the only way to combat that is to eat foods that release energy slowly.

But what chance do fruit and vegetables really stand when we’ve got a Pret or a Starbucks or a Costa around every corner.


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