Fighting fat with a sugar tax

Today doctor’s unite to recommend a tax on sugary drinks, and restrictions on advertising. About time too. We should be following the example of New York’s major Michael Bloomberg.

Last year I attended a lecture by Professor Marion Nestle on food politics. There are 1 billion hungry people in the world and 2 billion grossly overweight due to eating too much junk food. She asked the question “who benefits from a healthy nation?” Rates of obesity didn’t start to crank up until the 1980’s, in line with increasing portion sizes, especially in sugared, take away drinks. Over the same time healthy foods such as fruit and veg, has gone up in price, while the cost of butter, beer and fizzy drinks have gone down. Advertising has gone up. In 2010 the food industry spent $14 billion making sure people ate their sugary, high fat foods. However, the real push these days is to crank up junk food sales in India, China, Africa and South America.

The major of New York, Michael Bloomberg, took the bold step of banning large size sodas/fizzy drinks (64oz). Who needs them? A regular cup is 80z. He ran ads saying these ‘double gulp’ portions are 26 teaspoons of sugar! He was one of the first to talk about a tax on sugared drinks. Will Boris in London follow suit? Or are we going to let the cola companies fund the Olympics, giving completely the wrong message? The sugar industry are fighting back. As Professor Nestle says, first they attack the science, then the advocates, then they set up grassroot campaigns talking about ‘nanny states’, ‘freedom of choice’ to create the impression that people should be free to choose.

As more states in the US take up the challenge to tax sugary foods Pepsi alone spent 29 million dollars on lobbying against a sugar tax. Who benefits from a healthy nation? She asks. Just about no-one except us – the public. I’ve been to dietetic (and diabetic) conferences and it’s extraordinary to see that every single piece of it is supported by a food company (or drug company), she says. How did the dieticians and doctors let us get into this mess? The medical profession should be politically active against high sugar, high fat diets, not just sitting back and dishing out drugs. Dietetics needs to stop being soft on sugar and accepting sponsorship from the food industry. We need to fight back against the industry that is making us fat and eat less junk. To find out more visit There’s also a series of key papers at the Public Library of Sciences, which you can link to from there.