Ironically, one of the National Health Service’s biggest costs, if not the biggest, is what has been called a national epidemic of obesity – literally a big problem. Among the culprits contributing to the problem are sugar-laden fizzy drinks and fast food outlets in general. A report published by the UK charity Sustain calls for the government to address the issue by taxing soft drinks and banning any new fast food outlets near schools.
According to this report, the NHS spends over £6 billion every year on diet-related health issues; a 20p tax on all sugary drinks could raise £1 billion that could be used proactively to prevent many of those fatty problems from arising in the first place. The revenue could be spent on free, healthful meals for school children as well as educational encouragement for them to eat healthier foods, i.e. fruits and vegetables instead of chips and pastries.
The initiative was backed by the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, which represents almost every doctor in the UK, as well as over 60 other organisations. Sustain’s chairman Mike Rayner, who is also director of health promotion research at Oxford University, said that such a fiscal approach to the food issue could work as it has for other health hazards like smoking and drinking. It was also noted that government-imposed life-saving laws include regulations such as speed limits.
Industry leaders have argued that an additional tax would create extra hardship for people who may not be able to afford the healthier foods and beverages that are almost always more costly than mass produced processed foods. The British Soft Drinks Association claims that their products comprise only about 2% of Brits’ average daily intake of calories and the proposal doesn’t address the national tendency to poor diet and lack of exercise.