a heaped teaspoon of sugar

After months of campaigning, Jamie is thrilled that a sugary drinks levy will be introduced in the UK in 2018. Following this announcement, we’ve pulled together some of your most frequently asked questions to help explain how it could affect you.

Why do we need a sugary drinks tax? Why don’t we just educate parents and children?

Jamie agrees with many campaigners in the medical world who believe that alongside better food education, there should be levies and taxes that discourage people from – or at least make people think twice about – buying and consuming unhealthy products in large amounts, such as sugary fizzy drinks. The levy on sugary drinks is one small part of a six-part proposed strategy to combat childhood obesity. Food education is key, but we believe using taxes will help nudge people in the right direction, too.

Why are you just focusing on sugar and fizzy drinks? Why not salt or fats?

Good health is influenced by many dietary factors, however sugar and sugary drinks were highlighted as the biggest contributors to obesity and type-2 diabetes – the two largest causes of diet-related diseases – in last year’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report. We acknowledge that saturated fat and salt also contribute to poor health – these are two nutrients that we monitor closely in our recipe content. 

Is it right not to tax sugary milk drinks?

We believe that there should be a levy on flavoured milk-based drinks. Plain milk is a healthy way to get hydrated and naturally contains sugar in the form of lactose, however if sugar is added to it and it is consumed in the same quantities as other sugary fizzy drinks, it’s just as bad for you.

Reformulating sugary products will mean that food companies will reduce sugar, but add more sweeteners, which is no better!

We’re aware of the worries surrounding sweeteners and we’re continuously interrogating research into these products. All sweeteners used in food and drinks have been tested and approved as safe by the European Food Safety Authority. The best way to avoid both sugar and sweeteners is to cook from scratch and choose water, diluted fresh juice or milk as an alternative to fizzy drinks.

Rather than taxing unhealthy food, wouldn’t it be better to make healthy food cheaper?

It’s a common misconception that healthy food is more expensive. If you compare some sugary, processed and ready-made foods to healthy, fresh products, it is actually cheaper to buy the healthier options. For example, compare 1 x 330ml can of coke at 45p to the following items*:

1 banana: 16p
1 pint of semi-skimmed milk: 45p
1 apple: 20p
30g of mixed nuts and raisins: 18p
1 slice of wholemeal bread: 5p
125g natural yoghurt: 13p

It’s true that supermarkets often promote unhealthy products with special offers, and we hope they will start promoting healthier food instead of sugar-laden products. Jamie’s Childhood Obesity Strategy outlines his proposal to limit how supermarkets do this, with regulations on promoting healthier choices in store.

*Prices from Sainsbury’s (not including promotions or deals)

Isn’t this just going to be a tax on the poor?

This isn’t a tax on the poor as the media would like you to think. We hope that a levy on sugary products will force drink companies to reformulate their products to contain less sugar so they won’t be taxed at all. Secondly, companies don’t have to pass the extra cost onto the consumer. If they do, the extra few pence per drink will be reinvested into schools so the relative payback is 10-fold. Finally, we believe that sugary drinks should only be enjoyed occasionally as part of a healthy, balanced diet, rather than being a significant dent in anyone’s daily budget. We can’t hide from the fact that the poorest communities are most at risk of diet-related diseases and we want to make people aware that there are cheaper, healthier alternatives to sugary drinks, as plain milk, water and diluted fruit juices.

Doesn’t this levy mean we’re giving more money to the government?

The money raised by the levy (estimated at £520m per year) will be ploughed into funding that will impact child health in a positive way. While we would prefer for the money to go to food education, the current plan is for funding to go to increasing sport in primary schools. Given that more than 50% of seven-year olds do not do enough exercise, this can only be a good thing.

Some of your recipes are very high in sugar – doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

Jamie is not “anti-sugar” and this is not a tax on sugar. This is a levy on sugary drinks, which are the largest source of sugar in children’s diets.

Unlike a chocolate bar or slice of cake, sugary drinks are often not treated as an occasional treat. Sugary drinks are often consumed everyday and in large quantities. Drinking a can of some popular sugary drinks can take you over your daily recommended intake of added or free sugars in one hit and they contribute significantly to type-2 diabetes and tooth decay. We believe that everything can have a place in our diet, but only when consumed in responsible amounts and as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Will you still be serving sugary drinks in your restaurants?

Ultimately, we want to give customers a choice. Many people eat at our restaurants for special occasions, and we believe it’s perfectly fine to have a sugary drink as an occasional treat. However, we do have our own levy on sugary drinks to encourage people to think twice about what they’re consuming, and we offer low-sugar and sugar-free alternatives. Of course, we could ban sugary drinks in our restaurants, but we want to lead by example and educate customers as to the dangers of over-consuming sugary drinks. Jamie believes the levy is a good way to raise money to fund water fountains in schools (the levy has raised almost £50,000 to date). From spring onwards, our menus will show the number of teaspoons of sugar contained in each drink that is subject to the levy – this will help people to make informed decisions about how much sugar they’re consuming.

My child has type-1 diabetes and needs sugar. The tax means I have to pay more money for something that is beyond my control.

We’re aware that this is a sensitive issue and we hope the government will  react to it accordingly. Your doctor or dietician should give you advice on alternatives to sugary fizzy drinks if you’re diabetic and suffering from hypoglycemia. At the moment we don’t know how the levy will filter through to the customer directly. The majority of people drinking sugary drinks are not doing it for this purpose, and this levy was certainly never meant to negatively affect anyone who sometimes needs sugary food for health-related reasons. There are cheaper, more nutritious ways to get sugar rather than drinking a sugary drink – fruit juice is a good alternative.

What is Jamie’s Childhood Obesity Strategy? What happens next?

Worldwide, obesity has more than doubled since 1980 so the time for urgent action has long passed. Action is required by almost every government to improve food education and tackle the spiralling problems of diet-related disease, obesity and also under-nutrition. Jamie has welcomed the news about a levy on sugary drinks in the UK, but believes that this is only one part of a multi-layered solution to a complex problem and hopes that this will be addressed in the UK government’s forthcoming childhood obesity strategy, which we expect to be released this summer.

Together with medical experts and professionals, Jamie has given PM David Cameron a six-point plan to tackle childhood obesity in the UK. The levy on sugary drinks was just one of a range of proposed policies, initiatives, incentives and community-based interventions which together create a powerful tool for change. Jamie believes we must keep putting pressure on the PM to consider these measures and be bold once again in his own strategy. This will be Jamie’s focus over the coming months. You can read more about each of the six points here.