Tag Archives: sugar tax

Is there a scientific basis for the sugar levy?

Discussion of the sugar levy has focused on effectiveness and moral/political hazards. I want to focus on one problem that makes those redundant: Does it make scientific sense?

Not obviously.

A popular narrative: In the past, we thought obese people were that way because they lacked willpower and ate too much food, particularly fat, which obviously made you “fat” – it’s called fat! Then, scientists who had previously been silenced by the nutrition science establishment (which was in Big Sugar’s pocket) bravely spoke up and educated us on the Science!™, and now we know that it’s sugar, not fat, that makes you obese.

Reality is more complicated.

The supposedly debunked “fat = evil” paradigm was never a scientific consensus, but merely a pop-science one. It was less the work of the nutrition scientists than of sugar companies and the makers of low-fat diet products. The supposedly triumphant “sugar = evil” paradigm also has little support amongst nutrition scientists. At best, they are marginally more concerned with the impact of sugar on health than they were 50 years ago, and marginally less concerned about fat.

It isn’t hard to blow the simplistic anti-sugar position out of the water. This graph does it impressively, and should make everyone update their beliefs significantly away from thinking that sugar is a major cause of obesity, and should absolutely torpedo the simplistic “sugar = evil” position that has taken hold in many parts of the population and, seemingly, in government.

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Sugar Tax is nothing more than a money spinning effort

I’ve recently lost a substantial amount of weight. That’s not a humblebrag, it’s going to be relevant, I promise. It’s taken the best part of 20 years to find something that works for me, and I’ll come back to that later. How our society discusses diet and weight was mostly to blame for why it’s taken so long. When I was a teenager, I used to voraciously read women’s magazines while keeping out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day on holiday. Oh, the diet articles in some of those. It was awful. Everything was egg whites and Ryvita. Everything.

And then, imagine, you see something like those Cancer Research adverts. You’ve already seen in the media that a bland diet is something to aspire to, a good way to lose weight, and now you’re seeing that if you’re fat you’ll die. Can you blame a teenager for coming to the conclusion that living longer on miserable food isn’t actually that great a deal? Especially when cheese, chocolate, and chips exist. (Not together, although I did go there on a dare once.)

This is where the recent party proposals on food and drink taxation come in. So, imagine you’re a young adult now, and your understanding of diet is (still) that you can have nice food and be fat or have boring food and be thin. Is a tax going to change your mind about that? Or will you just spend more of your student bursary on that chocolate bar? It’s anecdotal, but that’s how people respond to ‘sin taxes’ more generally. Denmark had a fat tax, and gave up on a proposed sugar tax, because people literally preferred to go to shop in Germany than to pay it. Just process that, for a second: people actively chose to go and shop in a different currency to avoid the kind of tax our party is proposing a consultation on.

In reality, changing the way you eat can’t be done in the short term with nudge policies. Back to what worked for me. It was the concept behind the programme ‘Cook Yourself Thin’. You can eat whatever you like. You don’t have to cut out any food groups. You certainly don’t have own a cupboard full of Ryvita and live on steamed vegetables. What you can do is make lower-calorie substitutions for the things you love. The cookbook’s got a chocolate truffle recipe in it. It even recommends swapping a cookie for Jaffa cakes.

You have to do something which is sustainable for you. Otherwise you simply will not be able to keep it off. Most people put the weight they lose back on again. A sugar tax is nothing more than a money-spinning measure: if you have the spare cash, you’ll still buy it. It won’t make you successfully change the way you live. That’s far more personal and complex than most people like to think. 

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4 July 2019 – today’s press releases

  • Lib Dems: Govt must tackle obesity crisis to save lives
  • Lib Dems: Increase in SEND pupils will squeeze school budgets further
  • Welsh Liberal Democrats – Wales now a remain nation
  • Lib Dems: Overstretched school budgets are putting our children’s health at risk

Lib Dems: Govt must tackle obesity crisis to save lives

Responding to Cancer Research UK reporting that obesity now causes more cases of four common cancers in the UK than smoking, Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Judith Jolly said:

The reports that many cancers are more likely being caused by being overweight than smoking shows the need for Government to step up plans to tackle

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3 July 2019 – today’s press releases

  • Lib Dems demand new committee to assess no-deal damage
  • Lamb criticises whistleblower protections as “fundamentally inadequate”
  • Lib Dems produce bill to stop Govt’s publicity stunt approach to plastics
  • Lib Dems: Govt must tackle obesity crisis to save lives

Lib Dems demand new committee to assess no-deal damage

Today, the Liberal Democrats with a cross-party group in the House of Lords will attempt to create a a joint parliamentary committee of MPs and Peers to consider the impact of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement on 31 October 2019.

The motion not only calls for the creation of the joint committee, but that they …

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The sugar tax is as liberal as they come

Andy Briggs recently wrote on this blog that “any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal the sugar tax”. Certainly, the justifications that the government has given are to do with deterrence, and I agree that those are illiberal – but there is a much more compelling reason to support the principle of this policy, and one which goes right to the core of liberalism.

It is undeniable that a diet of sugary foods leads to obesity, and undeniable that obesity is one of the great killers in this country. But not only that, it’s costly – according

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Any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal the sugar tax

As the so-called ‘sugar tax’ comes into being, it’s worth remembering just how poor a piece of policy it is. The sugar tax is regressive, it is ineffective and it is illiberal; any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal it.

The pre-amble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats commits the party to both the fundamental value of liberty and ensuring that no-one is enslaved by poverty, the sugar tax fails on both these counts.

First and foremost the sugar tax is illiberal. If we accept that philosopher John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’, the idea that power should only be exerted over an individual against their will if it is to prevent harm to others, is a cornerstone of liberal thought, then quite clearly the sugar tax fails this test. The consumption of sugary drinks poses no threat of harm to others, and as such the state has no business attempting to reduce their use. Whilst you could argue that the ‘harm’ to others associated with the consumption of sugary drinks is the additional strain this may put on the health service, if you were to follow this argument through to its logical conclusion you would advocate taxing gym memberships, as injury sustained through excessive exercise would too place a strain on the NHS. Clearly, this is nonsensical.

To add to this, not only is the sugar tax illiberal but it is also regressive, as it will disproportionally affect those on the lowest incomes. This is both because they are more likely to consume non-diet soft drinks than wealthier individuals, and also because tax rises such as this will take up a larger proportion of the poorest individual’s budgets. Evidence suggests that for individuals with a high sugar diet, taxes do little to reduce their consumption, and as such the sugar tax is all cost and no benefit to those whose disposable income is already low. Far from lifting people out of poverty, the sugar tax further condemns them to it.

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