Tax is a soft and punitive option in war on obesity
There are plenty of reasons why people might eat and drink as much as they do, and as many reasons why they don't take as much exercise as they might.
Any strategy for dealing with obesity needs to adopt a broad remit and consider all these factors. If those who monitor the nation's health – and they seem to grow in number by the day – focus only on disparate areas of our lives, their energies will be sadly wasted.
For example, a tax on soft drinks – as proposed earlier this week by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges – is unlikely, taken in isolation, to have an impact on rising obesity rates. Soft drinks containing sugar contribute only some two per cent of the calories in the average diet and over the past ten years, while obesity rates have been going up, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has actually reduced. Additionally, more than 60 per cent of soft drinks contain no added sugar, up from 30 per cent 20 years ago.
These figures are, admittedly, from the soft drinks industry itself but they bear scrutiny and their general thrust is compelling enough to make a point. However, even though the consumption of calories from soft drinks has been falling, there is still more that the soft drinks industry, by its own admission, can do.
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That is why a growing number of companies in this sector have signed up to the Government's Public Health Responsibility Deal, making firm commitments to help people make healthier choices and enjoy their products as part of a balanced diet. The industry insists these are robust pledges with ambitious targets that will be measured and reported on. The industry says it is serious about the positive role it can play.
We are not convinced that calls to action on the sides of drinks bottles and chocolate bars have a significant effect on the purchaser, who has already made a choice to buy and, presumably, consume. But such moves represent a start.
Perhaps just as important, given the parlous state of the economy, is the fact that about 12,000 people work in the soft drinks industry, with another 50,000 working for suppliers and others reliant on the sector.
A rush to tax this industry could put those jobs at risk.