A sugar tax can be part of the solution

18 January 2016 | Health policy

Marting Wiseman - Medical & Scientific AdvisorMartin is the Medical & Scientific Adviser at World Cancer Research Fund International.

The chief executive of the Tax Payers Alliance is against a sugar tax because it will hit the poorest hardest. This is true, because the poorest have the highest sugar consumption — it is here that the main problem lies, as for tobacco, where legislative means including taxation have been effective in reducing smoking.

He suggests personal responsibility as a solution — and while I support the importance of this, if he were to examine the evidence (as he asks of us) he would find that such entreaties alone are not effective in changing behaviour.

What is needed is a many-faceted approach to limiting the affordability, availability and acceptability of unhealthy behaviours, of which a sugar tax is but one part, as Public Health England has advised.

Sugar pouring out of a soft drink can

Legislation is an effective means of changing behaviour — as we have seen with seatbelts, motorcycle helmets and smoking. The furore when legislation is introduced is followed by general acceptance, but the healthy rather than unhealthy alternative becomes the normal default.

Health advisers are often asked “what is the one thing that should be done”... and the answer is almost always that one thing is never enough.

This article first appeared as a letter in The Times on 11th January 2016.

Prof Martin Wiseman | 18 January 2016