UK Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement that a tax is to be placed on sugary drinks is most welcome. Although this is a hypothecated tax that will generate money specifically for schools, it is important to congratulate the government on its valuable first step to improve several aspects of child health.
The tax itself may be criticised from several standpoints. Its magnitude, application and actual impact on sugar consumption may all differ from similar taxes in other countries (
The Pharmaceutical Journal 2015;294:143). Any effect of the tax is expected to be slow (and it is unlikely to be implemented for two years). Crucially this announcement signals that the government wishes to put child health higher up its agenda. As Mr Osborne declared, his intention was to develop a budget for the next generation.
This direction is vital if obesity is to be tackled effectively because international experience has shown that single strategies tend to be ineffective (World Health Organization: ‘Population-based approaches to childhood obesity prevention’). Reduction in sugar consumption needs to be accompanied by a reduction in exposure of children to the advertising of junk food and the delivery of better diets in family homes and at school. We need to ensure that children receive sound education in planning, shopping for, preparing and sharing good meals. They must not be allowed to continue with an unhealthy vending machine culture or, indeed, turkey twizzlers from food outlets on their journey home after school.
A new Britain with a healthy workforce and lower NHS expenditure on tooth extractions and obesity starts with improved nutrition. I applaud the Chancellor for taking the first step on the road to achieving this. Paediatricians will help identify the most effective next steps on this journey.