Sugar rush, sugar tax and food education

In order to reduce the health conditions associated with the over consumption of sugar such as obesity, diabetes and dental caries it has been suggested that a sugar tax is introduced in the UK. Jamie Oliver released an interesting documentary highlighting the health concerns associated with consumption of sugar aptly named “Sugar Rush”. Action for sugar outlines many strategies for decreasing sugar in the diet and calls on the government to aim to achieve a reduction in free sugar intakes in the UK and to educate the public to become more sugar aware.

The pros and cons of a sugar tax are many and bias may exist depending on who is involved in the discussion. Obviously a dentist, doctor or athlete may have opposing views in comparison to the chief executives of a sugary drinks company or the owner of a cake decorating company. While a parent may have more opposing views in comparison to their children, who are naturally inclined to favour sweet foods and are less likely to be able to afford to buy expensive sweet products.

Among the arguments for a sugar tax may be the point of view that if a tax is well documented and publicized that it may help to make people more aware of the sugar content of food. Therefore, it would help people to avoid or reduce those foods which are high in sugar and calories. As a result the food industry and manufactures may respond by encouraging their product development teams to look at creative ways to design foods which are lower in sugar.

Some may also argue that if the government imposes a sugar tax it would be another example of a “nanny state” run country where the government would literally be taking decisions out of the hands of people and making decisions for them. Perhaps, this could be seen as a controlling way to ensure people make better food choices when it comes to choosing sugary food products or it may highlight even further the foods which are considered to have a negative impact on health.

Food teachers across the country have been educating about the impact of the over consumption of sugar and ill effects such as diabetes, obesity and dental cavities for years.Yet this seems to go unreported in the press. The photo taken above is one which food teachers have shared as an example of good practice on using notice boards effectively in the classrooms. Pupils do in fact take notice of this and many utter words and tones of disbelief when they realize the amount of teaspoons of sugar are in their favourite drinks. It is a powerful way of getting the message across visually.

On the other hand some consumers may feel that a tax is unfair to those who are not obese or diabetic  or to those who can manage to eat sugar in moderation. Why should these people have to pay a higher price for products that they would purchase less often as treats? Ultimately if a sugar tax is imposed it does not mean that the popularity of such foods will be reduced. If people are addicted to sugar or have problems with overeating this may be due to lifestyle or state of mind, they may continue to do so and increasing the price of sugary products may not have any affect at all. Many people admit to “comfort eating” when they are stressed or sad. Sugar laden food is readily available at a reasonable price and people often eat mindlessly as they are chatting over a drink, watching tv or travelling. This can be because it’s a sociable activity to eat, or food may be eaten out of boredom or because it is a routine. Perhaps educating people about the difference between physical hunger and emotional eating and teaching them strategies to eat mind fully may be more productive than imposing a tax.

If a sugar tax was enforced then maybe it would be an idea to spend money generated as a result on services and education which inform people about the impact of food on mental health as well as physical health. Unfortunately, the emphasis on health is often on treating physical health but many health problems could be prevented by spending money on educational programmes which teach people how to reduce stress in their lives, to eat in a mindful way and how to prevent illness by applying healthy living practices in a hands on, practical way. Once again, food education plays an important role in allowing people to make informed choices about sugar consumption.  So could the solution be to combine a robust food education programme with a tax on sugar? I am inclined to think so.

We need to help people find a happy medium to eating sugar in moderation. Otherwise, people will crave those foods that are harder to get and do what they need to do to get that sugar rush.

Update

So , today the 16 March 2016 George Osborne has unveiled a tax on sugary drinks.Jamie Oliver said it is a “big moment in child health” and I couldn’t agree more but still believe it’s requires a multifaceted approach and food education should be at the core of this approach.

 

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Feel free to comment or email me at foodandhealthteacher@hotmail.com if you would like to discuss this blog further.

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