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Time to end the sugar rush

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Could a sugar tax improve public health? Could a sugar tax improve public health?

As a health journalist, one of my universal rules of life is to immediately discard any story which claims: ‘X is the new smoking’. A couple of years ago it was, oddly, sitting which had this dubious accolade. But lately it’s been sugar, although bacon is currently making a surge to knock it off its carcinogenic perch.

Which isn’t to belittle an obvious point. We are eating too much sugar, and you’re probably seeing the knock-on effects of obesity and type 2 diabetes among your patients.

The issue recently came to the fore with the release of an allegedly suppressed report from Public Health England. It said the UK needs to half its sugar intake. A vocifereous, if not always scientific, lobby seized upon one proposal, that of a ‘sugar tax’ on products such as fizzy drinks.

So-called ‘sin taxes’ have a mixed record of success. Even in this day and age, the poor still smoke and the rich still drink. Even where there has been some drop in consumption in the former, health education must be credited a role.

Nevertheless, a sugar tax does seem like worth trying. There is some evidence of success in Mexico, and the government’s policy of pursuing a more collegiate relationship with the food industry than its predecessor has so far borne little fruit. It’s time to get tougher.

But don’t expect a quick fix in bringing our national BMI down. The reality of our current ‘obesogenic’ society is more complex than that. It is one weapon, but we need to build an armoury.

Mike Shallcross, acting editor, Independent Nurse

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