LONDON—British health officials are poised to push for a “pudding tax” to wean Britons off sugar, blaming the sweet stuff for fueling the UK’s obesity crisis.
The so-called “pudding tax” would likely target those food categories—cakes, biscuits, and sweets—that have failed to make the cut in the government’s anti-obesity plan.
“Puddings were going in completely the wrong direction,” Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, told the Telegraph.
The British government’s sugar-reduction plan was introduced in 2017, aiming to cut the amount of sugar in popular foods by 20 percent by 2020. It had a target of 5 percent in the first year across specific food categories, including breakfast cereals, yogurts, cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, ice cream, and sweet spreads.
A progress report in May 2018 revealed that yogurts, breakfast cereals, and sweet spreads were the only food groups to hit the 5 percent target. Other categories only managed a reduction of 2 percent, while chocolates and biscuits stayed the same, and puddings became even sweeter.
‘Mandatory and Fiscal Levers’
The government’s childhood-obesity plan has already warned that “mandatory and fiscal levers” could be used as a stick to coax the food industry into compliance if voluntary sugar caps don’t work.
“We were pleased to see that,” Dr. Tedstone said of the possibility of using monetary coercive measures. “If progress isn’t made in the categories within the sugar-reduction program, that would be the obvious place to start.”
The pudding levy would be a measure over and above a sugar tax already in place in the UK since April 2018, that targets sweetened drinks. Officially called the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, the tax is another part of the government’s anti-obesity drive, aiming to reduce sugar consumption by persuading companies to reformulate high-sugar products to avoid financial penalties.
At the time the sugar tax was announced, Taxpayers Alliance chief Jonathan Isaby argued the levy would fail to change consumer behavior significantly.
“It is astonishing that the government is pressing ahead with this pernicious tax when the evidence clearly suggests that it will simply not affect consumption in any meaningful way,” Isaby told The Sun.
While the sugar tax has already hit businesses with $194 million in taxes, it is too early to determine the health impact.
‘Excess Sugar Cubes’
Speculation about the possibility of a pudding tax comes on the heels of a new study showing the average child in Britain has consumed 18 years’ worth of sugar by the time they reach the age of 10.
“While children’s sugar intakes have declined slightly in recent years,” said officials at Public Health England, the government institution behind the study, children “are still consuming around 8 excess sugar cubes each day, equivalent to around 2,800 excess sugar cubes per year.”
Before Christmas, England’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies was explicit in calling for taxes on sugary foods, according to the BBC, saying it’s wishful thinking to believe the industry will change voluntarily.
Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation, argued that industry has been responsive, and that in recent years, the number of lower sugar products on the shelves has gone up. He also said it was illogical for the government to target sugar intake rather than overall calories in people’s diets when formulating strategies to combat obesity.
Dr. Harry Rutter, a senior clinical research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said that while sugar plays a role in obesity, it isn’t the only factor.
“Sugar is one of many factors driving the obesity epidemic,” he said in an LSHTM research feature. “It’s far from the only thing to worry about. We need to see it as a factor within a wider system, and treat it as such.”