Medical professionals back a sugar tax, so what are you afraid of, Mr Hunt?

Plus: Could a jab really do the weight-watching for you?

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 23 October 2015 17:15
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The NHS says added sugars should not take up more than 5 per cent of the calories you eat every day, which for most people means about 30g
The NHS says added sugars should not take up more than 5 per cent of the calories you eat every day, which for most people means about 30g

Why doesn’t David Cameron want to impose a tax on sugar? Does he think it’s our “human right” to consume whatever we choose, and sod the consequences?

Public Health England, which is funded by the Government, produced a report last July which concluded that a sugar tax could help fight obesity. Since then, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has confined the proposal to his pending tray. The fact is, no matter how much we try to avoid it, we consume far more sugar by stealth than by choice, because sugar has become a hidden ingredient in many everyday foods.

Back in the days of rationing, we were far leaner. Sugar came in a white bag and was stored in the larder, decanted into a small pot on the table to add to tea, or carefully measured into cake mix when baking. My mother would never have added sugar to pasties, pies, salad dressings, soups or bread, which is the norm these days. Sugar is even added to plain yoghurt, mayonnaise, and low-fat foods which are sold as an aid to losing weight.

Sugar is probably more addictive than booze or fags, but Cameron seems very reluctant to do anything about it, even though one in three 11-year-olds is now overweight. I wonder why?

I dimly remember the former Labour minister Alan Johnson saying he didn’t want alcohol taxed by the unit because it would penalise “the poorest in society”. Please God, let’s not have that antediluvian view applied to sugar. Excessive consumption of fizzy drinks is not the prerogative of the unwaged – even Prince Harry and Prince Andrew love drinking coke. When it comes to taxing sugar, I wish politicians would stop worrying about the nanny state and – just for once – be bold and brave.

A tax on drinks would be a start. A ban on large bottles of pop another step. Banning sugar in baby food and in children’s meals in restaurants would be another. A ban on confectionery offers in newsagents and supermarkets. Stricter guidelines on advertising sugar-laden foods at peak times when children are watching television. A ban on sports sponsorship by food manufacturers peddling sugar-loaded products. There you go, the JSP (and Jamie Oliver) list of simple ways to reduce the nation’s sugar consumption, condensed into a few sentences. And we’re just reasonably intelligent voters, not policy makers.

What hidden agenda stops the Health Secretary taking action? Does he lack the balls to stand up to the food and drink manufacturers which frequently trash campaigners who dare to question the unhealthy crap that lines supermarket shelves? A small bottle of Pepsi contains 14 spoonfuls of sugar, a bottle of Coca-Cola 8.75 teaspoons, and there’s a whopping 17 in a 500ml bottle of Lucozade Energy Pink. No wonder our children’s teeth are rotting.

Oliver is campaigning for a 7p tax on cans and small bottles of fizzy drinks, and easy-to-understand sugar labelling. Health professionals including the British Medical Association support a tax, but the Government is stonewalling. Supermarkets and producers have an unhealthy relationship with schools and sport, sponsoring activities and even helping to write food tech courses. This is not acceptable. The industry is interested in one thing only – delivering massive profits to shareholders, not improving children’s health or saving their teeth.

Claiming, as the Government does, that a tax would add to the cost of living is simplistic – if we continue to get fatter and fatter, the cost to the NHS of obesity-related illness and remedial dentistry will soar – and who will be paying for that? Taxpayers, so our cost of living will go up anyway.

The food industry has cut salt and now it should be coerced into cutting sugar. But time is running out, and a tax on pop is an essential first step in the battle of the bulge.

Could a jab really do the weight watching for you?

If anyone knows about fighting flab, it’s Oprah Winfrey, whose struggles with her weight have been well documented. Last week, she bought a 10 per share of Weight Watchers, a company which has struggled recently against competition from weight loss apps, slimming drinks, and wristband and phone activity trackers.

Oprah enthusiastically promotes the company’s ethos, which relies on a version of group therapy – a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous – and says it’s worked for her. The stock market welcomed news of her investment, but has she backed the wrong horse in the race to solve the obesity epidemic?

A US study published last week in the Journal of Endocrinology says an injection which stimulates the hormone leptin might be more effective at reducing weight than dieting. Leptin sends a message to the brain to stop eating, but obese people have become desensitised to it. When researchers injected rats with a gene which produces leptin, the rats all lost weight and did not suffer any adverse side-effects.

Sounds like a good bet to me.

Some things haven’t changed since the Swinging Sixties

In September 1965, I walked up the steps of 36 Bedford Square in Bloomsbury on the proudest – and most frightening – day of my life. The first person in my family to go on to higher education, I had survived an examination and a gruelling interview to be one of fewer than 10 girls among 90 boys accepted to study at the Architectural Association, one of the most prestigious schools in the world.

From that day on, I ditched my former schoolmates and threw myself into having fun, trying to understand perspective drawing and plumbing – a total failure.

The AA changed my life by giving me the freedom to express myself. I left after two years for journalism, but still have close friends from that first day. What a brilliant time we had – it was the Swinging Sixties – appearing as extras in the film Blow Up, and I scored a (fully clothed) part in an Italian porno movie with Claudia Cardinale.

My class held a 50th anniversary reunion this week, an event which caused me almost as much anguish as day one as a student. Would I recognise anyone? Would I have to wear a name badge? My old pal Rex reminded me that I had dumped my fiancé (also called Rex) and took Rex II to Ready Steady Go, ruthlessly repelling anyone who dared to step into our dance-floor slot. Yes, I was hogging the telly cameras, even back then.

I noticed during dinner that my gang had seamlessly slipped back into our old seating plan from that first day in 1965. Some of us have changed shape, but the humour was sharp as ever. We haven’t been lucky, by the way, we’ve worked bloody hard.

A glaringly white blight on our beautiful coastline

A creeping blight is affecting our coastline: permanent mobile homes. According to the National Trust, more than 100,000 caravans have been parked on sites around the coast in the past 50 years.

Rather feebly, the NT says they are “an important part of keeping the coast accessible”, but I disagree. All too often caravan sites are private, and walkers are not encouraged. Caravans desecrate some of our most beautiful bays with serried ranks of ugly white boxes. Couldn’t our planning laws be changed so that mobile homes have to be painted green or camouflaged? With an older population, they offer a cheaper retirement home for most of the year, but not at the expense of our best views, please.

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