Leading by example?
Another week, another sugar tax story. NHS England is set to be the first public body in the UK to impose a sugar tax, following an announcement by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens.
Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, Stevens pledged a 20 per cent tax on high sugar drinks and snacks sold in cafes and vending machines in hospitals across England, to be introduced by 2020.
Proceeds of the levy are expected to be £20m-£40m a year.
Stevens says, “Because of the role that the NHS occupies in national life, all of us working in the NHS have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country.
“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar added foods across the NHS which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years over a rolling basis.
“By 2020, we’ve either got these practices out of hospitals or we’ve got the equivalent of a sugar tax on the back of them.”
The Food and Drink Federation, however, has criticised the timing of the announcement.
Director general Ian Wright comments, “It’s puzzling that Mr Stevens has chosen to pre-empt the launch of government’s comprehensive obesity strategy, which his own department is developing, to announce plans for new taxes, which haven’t ever been shown to make a sustained difference to obesity.
“Public Health England acknowledges that there is a lack of evidence about the long-term effectiveness of additional taxes on food and drink. We can only assume, therefore, that [the] announcement is driven more by the need to raise money than by any wish to change behaviours.
“Only recently (September 2015), Simon Stevens announced plans for a holistic strategy to support the health of the NHS workforce, including exercise classes, health checks and support for employees’ mental health, as well as efforts to work with suppliers to make food and drink sold on-site healthier. All of these initiatives taken together have a far greater chance of creating a healthier workforce and one that can inspire patients toward healthier behaviours.”
Again, it seems industry’s commitment to reformulation, having removed millions of calories from the food chain through reformulation and changes to portion/pack sizes, has been overlooked, as well as calls for education over taxes.
Is this announcement a case of leading by example or, as Wright suggests, a money making exercise?