Will tax and advertising ban be ingredients for success for children’s diet?

Slowly but surely, it would appear, that momentum is growing for the Government’s push for healthier diets. This week it published its sugar tax legislation – drinks with 5g of sugar per 100ml will be on one rate (as yet unconfirmed), while those with more than 8g per 100ml will be taxed more heavily. A number of businesses chose the announcement to reveal their plans too. Lucozade Ribena has pledged to halve the sugar in its drinks while Tesco has also said that it will reduce the levels in its own brand drinks to below the tax threshold.

While this proactive approach by drinks companies might see the predicted tax take fall from the £500m estimate, it has to be viewed as good news that big business is reformulating – removing huge amounts of sugar from their products, before the levy is officially introduced in April 2018.

Indeed a Government spokesman said that with British children currently consuming more than three times the recommended amount of sugar, legislation was not only essential, but also appeared to be having an impact already.

The exact rate of tax will be confirmed next year, and it looks like big business will bear the brunt as the draft legislation includes an exemption for the smallest producers.

Legislation can be a blunt instrument, often best used as a tool of last resort. But health experts speak as one in their support for this tax. In fact Cancer Research estimates that a 20% tax could prevent 3.7 million cases of obesity over the next ten years. That’s a powerful argument and one that, while it’s not entirely accepted by the drinks industry, does appear to be helping persuade it to make truly significant changes to their products.

On the subject of impact, there is of course a drinks levy in place already. Jamie Oliver imposed a 10p sugary drinks tax in his own restaurants as part of his successful campaign to persuade the then Chancellor George Osborne to introduce the tax nationally. Other groups, include LEON followed suit. We’ll be watching with interest when scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine publish a report shortly on the effect on sales of the sugary drinks in Oliver’s restaurants.

The other major development this week in the battle to improve the diets of the next generation, came today, with the announcement of a ban on online advertising of junk food to children.

The Committee on Advertising Practice’s new rules come a month after the World Health Organisation urged governments globally to take such steps and also follows the finding that children now spend more time online than watching TV.

The new rules which will come into effect in July, will be administered by the Advertising Standards Authority. Critics, like the Children’s Food Campaign, have already criticised these measures for not going far enough and questioned the effectiveness of their enforcement.

As we said above, legislation can be a blunt instrument. Currently only 1.2% of food advertising spend is on vegetables. And if we’re honest, a large proportion of children’s menus offer a minimal choice between plates of stodgy, beige food.

As part of our Food Made Good 2017 campaign calendar we’ll be calling on the industry to smarten up its act on kids’ menus. By providing children with a choice of good looking, delicious and nutritious dishes, restaurants can play their part in changing the behaviour and health of a generation.

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