FHC APPG Sara Keel Babycup

Sugar Tax & Positions of Authority (or, Why We Need to be Grateful for Campaigners Like Jamie Oliver)

Sugar Tax & Positions of Authority (or, Why We Need to be Grateful for Campaigners Like Jamie Oliver)

In Summer 2014 I was in a small room in Westminster for a meeting with the then Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England. There weren’t many of us, perhaps only 10 or so were at the meeting, but we had a big agenda. Sugar.

As part of the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit & Healthy Childhood we were there to discuss our thoughts on the sticky situation our nation was in, and in particular the effect of sugar on the wellbeing of children now and in the future. The title of the meeting was ‘How Can We Reduce Childhood Sugar Consumption?’[1]

The esteemed gentleman all but hung his head in his hands as he told us there was nothing that could be done. He said words to the effect of, “I’ve been through this with the tobacco industry and its taken a long time. The problem is they have more money than us, more expensive lawyers than us and they’ll never give in. We might as well work with them rather than against them.” These were crushing words.

Sadly, it wasn’t an answer that should come as a surprise, but it was still a disheartening moment. Like an adult telling a hopeful child they are not prepared to help them. The room had been expectant with great direction and insight from this person in a position of power. But what came instead was the realisation that there are people in authority who have given up before they’ve even begun. And the knowledge that it’s our children they’re letting down.

The APPG FHC was undeterred and sugar stayed key in subsequent meetings. Leading authorities on the sweet stuff such as Dr Robert Lustig[2], an American paediatric endocrinologist and author of ‘Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar’, met with us and sugar remains as an important topic in recommendations that have been put forward in reports we as a group have subsequently written and which our inspiring, motivating and tenacious Co-Chair, Floella Benjamin, (Baroness Benjamin OBE), has brilliantly communicated to Ministers.

Elsewhere in the media, there are other groups putting on the pressure. Notably, such high profile campaigners as Damon Gameau http://thatsugarfilm.com/, Dr Aseem Malhotra https://twitter.com and Jamie Oliver [3] have done huge amounts to push forward the sugar discussions and effect change.

We all know though that one thing will not change it all. Jamie Oliver, whose petition and media attention undoubtedly was crucial in leading the Government to announce a sugary drinks tax, has never claimed a tax would be the solution by itself. But the sugar tax is one thing more than we had before.

I heard Dr Hilary Jones speaking on BBC Radio 2 just after the Government had announced the plans. He said he supported it and said it should have been brought in long ago. That was great to hear. He also mentioned that a sugar tax alone will not solve all health issues. But it is a start. And that is always a good place to begin.

At the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit & Healthy Childhood, we’ll keep on pushing for what we believe in. A healthy childhood, so that healthy children can grow into healthy adults, and can have healthy children of their own.

If we all do our bit, we can take this ‘start’ and make it a new beginning.

Let’s be under no illusion that those holding influential positions are going to do all that’s needed. Sometimes there’s another agenda tempting them down a different path. Or they may simply have run out of energy to fight.

But whilst there are big names prepared to stand up and make a noise, let’s applaud them, join them and make change.

Three cheers to health and three cheers to our children!


FHC APPG Sara Keel Babycup National Obesity Framework

[1] How Can We Reduce Childhood Sugar Consumption?

8 April 2014 – with Professor David Walker, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Health in England, and Professor Jack Winkler, Former Professor of Nutrition Policy, London Metropolitan University


[2] Dr. Robert Lustig, author of ‘Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar’, http://www.responsiblefoods.org/

[3] http://www.jamieoliver.com/theplan/