Current headline discussion: NHS Chief introduces Sugar Tax to tackle UK Obesity crisis.

As food and health teachers we don’t have to search too hard for inspiration to teach about nutrition and health. As soon as I read this headline in the Guardian today (18.01.16),         “NHS to introduce a sugar tax” , I knew that it would form the basis of a lesson. As food teachers we often base our lessons  on current topical issues to link into our A level specification requirements. Pupils need to be well read to answer discussion type questions that are topical in the real world. This means that we cover topics such as sustainability, world hunger, food waste, the horsemeat scandal, food poverty,  food insecurity, trends, fat taxes, obesity, dental health, mental health and of course the sugar tax debate.

So here is a lesson based on this headline.

Starter : Get pupils to watch this clip about 6 year old Mario having his teeth pulled in a hospital ward as featured on Jamie Oliver Sugar Rush programme.


Yes, it is difficult to watch but as teachers we sometimes have to teach pupils about what happens when sugar is consumed in large quantities. Sometimes shocking viewing helps to get the message across.

This is to set the scene for the lesson which is do attempt to answer the following question as if it came up as an exam question in 2016/2017. How does this set the scene? Firstly, it shows the effects of over consumption of sugar and secondly it is set in a hospital.

The question is as follows and I am making it up. I am also making up the mark scheme so I’m going to assume its a 12 mark question but it could just as easily be 16 marks.

Exam Question

The NHS chief decided in January 2016 to introduce a sugar tax in hospitals to tackle the UK Obesity crisis. Discuss the pros and cons of this proposal. ( 12 marks).

  • Teacher to write question on board and look for initial thoughts from pupils.
  • Questions: What are your initial thoughts? What are the key words? Are you for or against a sugar tax in general or a sugar tax in settings such as hospitals?
  • Give each pupil a copy of the newspaper article to read the main points.

The main points are as follows:

Hospital across England will start charging more for highly sugared drinks and snacks sold in vending machines and cafes.

This move will make NHS England the first public body to introduce a sugar tax.

It will use the £20-£40 million a year the new  levy is expected to raise to improve the health of staff.

The tax is likely to be set at 20%.

  • Teacher to display poster with comments from members of the public who have commented on the article on the guardian website, a poster with news headlines related to the sugar tax and a list of comments posted on social media sites such as twitter for pupils to have a read of peoples general opinions.

Examples include:

“Why on earth have hospitals got machines and cafes selling unhealthy foods anyway” ?

“A walk into the average NHS hospital shows obese staff in vast numbers!”

“Not sure if tax will have any impact but the villian of the piece is definitely added sugar and it needs tackling, pronto”

“Why tax? Why not just stop selling the rubbish in hospital?”

“The money raised from the NHS sugar tax should be used for comprehensive practical based nutrition education for doctors and nurses and to offer free healthy meals to staff to increase well being and productivity”

etc, etc

  • Pupils can choose to use this as an aid to form a list of  pros and a list of cons in relation to the sugar tax in hospitals.
  • Pupils are given time as a group to discuss and then time as an individual to write down 8 points of information that they intend to base their answer on.
  • Pupils are given 20 minutes to write out a sample answer and are then asked to self assess using the marking scheme below.

Marking scheme:

Any relevant point, plus relevant example:

Answers should make reference to key words or explain key words.


  • Over-consumption of sugar may be seen as an addiction and difficult to break the habit. Mental health should be improved first to help people who overeat due to emotional problems such as comfort eating. Schools and universities should educate its pupils about mindful eating, the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger and how to deal with emotions without controlling or overeating food.
  • People may find alternative ways of consuming food that are priced at a reasonable rate e.g. buy food in bulk at a cheaper price from pound shops etc and take into hospitals instead of buying these foods on site. Or people may just buy foods high in fat instead of high in sugar.
  • Putting a tax on sugary food s does not automatically decrease the popularity of the food or the desire to consume it.
  • Instead, we need to continue to educate young people about food and how to apply healthy eating practically and how to read labels etc so that they can make informed decisions about their health.
  • Is this not unfair to people who have the willpower to limit their consumption of sugar?
  • Is this not just not another example of how England is becoming a nanny state; the government telling people what they should eat, when etc?
  • The NHS just want to make more money.
  • Would the NHS not be better concentrating on reforming hospital meals completely before implementing a sugar tax?


  • Perhaps, it is the only way to force people into action by hitting budgets as education doesn’t  seem to be working.
  • Food producer may review their products as a result and make efforts to make them healthier.
  • Money gained from the tax can be put to good use within the NHS e.g. training of staff, well being, improved productivity etc
  • It could have an effect if well published , implemented, monitored and evaluated.
  • It make make people more aware of foods that are high in sugar.
  • It may help make the NHS a fitter, healthier workforce and as a result inspire the public as role models.
  • The NHS provides a free service to the public so we should respect their wishes to lead a good example.
  • It may reduce health problems as a a result of over consumption of sugar such as diabetes, obesity, dental health problems.

etc, etc

Mark Range

0  No response worthy of credit

1-4 A limited response which covers simplistic points. Arguments not fully supported.

5-8 A reasonable answer .Arguments are made and supported with examples.

9 -12 An excellent understanding of the main issues. Points of information show originality and lots of examples are given


If you wish to make the question a little bit more challenging you could ask the same question but instead of discuss you could  write explain the rationale behind this proposal and award 16 marks.


I am going to do this lesson with my A level group this week. Perhaps you will join me.



4 thoughts on “Current headline discussion: NHS Chief introduces Sugar Tax to tackle UK Obesity crisis.

  1. I did exactly this (except the exam question) with my year 8’s this week. They argued well about a sugar tax and concluded that people should make their own decisions but that sugar rich drinks should come with health warnings and images not unlike cigarette packaging. I showed them all three clips on Jamie’s sugar rush. It was real food for thought.


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