Action on Sugar calls for extended sugar levy ahead of election

Action on Sugar calls for extended sugar levy ahead of election
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Mehmet Cetin

Action on Sugar is calling on the UK’s next government to extend the soft drinks levy to confectionery.

The calls come as part of a point manifesto, released in the run up to the June 8 general election.

Chocolate and sweet confectionery are already included in Public Health England’s (PHE) sugar reduction programme as one of the top nine food categories which contributes sugar to the diets of children and therefore manufacturers have been asked to reduce sugar in their products by 20% by 2020.

However, Action on Sugar is urging the next government to also implement a mandatory sugar levy on all confectionery products that contain high levels of sugar to ensure maximum impact to help tackle the obesity and Type 2 Diabetes crisis.

The campaign group is requesting that the sugar levy, as already approved by HM Treasury for sugar-sweetened soft drinks, is mandatory for all confectionery produced by manufacturers and retailers (set at a minimum levy of 20%), including those products sold in coffee shops and restaurants, as these often contain the highest amount of sugar and overall calories.

Chocolate and sweet confectionery contributes 9% total sugar to the diets of children (4-10 year olds) and 11% in teenagers (11-18 years) yet contain little or no nutritional value and contributes significantly to tooth decay.

“The levy should be structured by the HM Treasury as per the soft drinks industry levy, whereby it is aimed at manufacturers to encourage them to reduce sugar in their overall product ranges. Any revenue raised should go towards improving health in the UK,” said Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar.

Furthermore, the current government obesity plan omits key evidence-based recommendations, such as restricting the marketing of, and promotions on, food and drink high in sugar, saturated fat and salt (as originally advised by Action on Sugar in 2015).

In addition, the voluntary nature of the majority of actions means there is little enforcement. The next government needs to bring in tough measures to ensure compliance and put public health first before the profits of the food industry.

The Food and Drink Federation has already announced that their members are unlikely to reduce sugar by 20% by 2020, as requested by PHE.

What’s more, Action on Sugar urge PHE to launch a calorie reduction programme imminently to ensure that both sugar, and total calories, are reduced. The campaign group warns voluntary sugar reduction via reformulation alone will not combat obesity.

Finally, the soft drinks industry levy must be closely monitored to ensure compliance and be gradually escalated.

There is concern that some of the drink brands who refuse to reduce sugar in their products will pass on the cost of the levy to their customers, distributing it evenly across their high and low sugar products creating little or no incentive to choose the healthier option. Incremental reduction should continue to be encouraged by gradually reducing the levy threshold.