The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s recent budget announcement was met with euphoria by public health, medical, children’s and anti-obesity organisations alike because of the bombshell inclusion of a tax on sugary drinks.
But while the bold step by the chancellor to introduce a sugar tax on fizzy drinks is being seen as a huge victory for public health, the obesity crisis in the UK shows no sign of abating. In fact, recent figures from Public Health England reveal that the UK is the second most obese country in Europe.
More worrying, however, is the growing childhood obesity problem in the UK. Public Health England figures show that 19.1% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) are obese, with a further 14.2% considered overweight. Of children in reception class (aged 4-5), 9.1% are obese and a further 12.8% overweight. In other words, a third of 10-11 year-olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year-olds are obese or overweight.
‘Bold, Brave, Logical’
Nevertheless, the Obesity Health Alliance said the chancellor’s announcement was a “moment to celebrate” and celebrity chef turned public health champion Jamie Oliver called the move “bold, brave, logical”.
The hope is that by making high-calorie, nutrient-poor sugary drinks more expensive less people will consume them and awareness of the health harms they carry will be raised.
One of the biggest problems linked to obesity is diabetes and according to Diabetes UK, there has been a 65% rise in the number of people with the disease in the country in the past decade alone. The number of people now living with diabetes in the UK actually topped 4 million for the first time ever at the beginning of this year.
Of those 4.05 million people, around 550,000 are estimated to be children, highlighting the growing diabetes problem in the UK.
Melanie Davies, professor of diabetes medicine at the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust, said: “We know that we have an ageing population so of course there are lots of ageing people with diabetes, but we’re seeing in the [Leicester] clinic, teenagers and even children with type 2 diabetes and we wouldn’t have seen that 10 years ago.”
NHS Struggling with Cost of Diabetes Treatment
Diabetes.co.uk pegs the cost of the disease to the NHS at over £1.5 million an hour, or 10% of the health service’s budget for England and Wales. That equates to over £25,000 every minute being spent on the disease.
In total, an estimated £14 billion a year is spent treating diabetes and the disease’s prevalence in the UK is expected to rise to 4 million by 2025.
However, diabetes isn’t the only health issue that can arise from being obese and a person’s risk of developing 10 different forms of cancer, including breast, bowel and prostate, is increased when they are dangerously overweight.
Hopefully the sugary drinks tax will play some part in tackling the UK’s growing child obesity problem, but it would be naïve to think that it’s going to make a huge difference on its own. More focus needs to be placed on the issue of over-eating in general and emphasis placed on educating children about their food choices.
It is really important we all start to take responsibility for our own health and well-being. We know health problems can start from a very early age and it is important we educate our children in healthy eating and exercise to prevent future illness. Lifestyle diseases are already placing a massive burden on the NHS and this will continue to get worse unless we start to do something now. The tax on sugary drinks can only help in this regard.
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