The SWEET Act: US introduces a bill to tax sugary drinks

US Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has introduced a Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act of 2014 (SWEET Act).LauraDeLauro

The SWEET Act would amend the US tax code code to impose a one-cent tax on manufacturers for every teaspoon of added sugar in beverages.

The revenue from the tax would go toward initiatives designed to reduce the human and economic costs associated with health conditions related to sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

Scientific research shows a very clear relationship between the consumption of sugary drinks and obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health problems,” said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Director of Yale Rudd Center. “Given the pervasive marketing of sugary drinks in the U.S. today, we need to encourage families to make healthy choices. A soda tax has the potential to do just that.

Sugar consumption-related diseases are responsible for an estimated $190 billion in annual health care costs just in the US.

30 Aug – reportedly, the UK Faculty for Public Health are due to call for national food policy including sugar tax in their manifesto next month

My formal ban on soft drinks, pop and fruit juices

Such is the power of advertising and peer-pressure that I felt, as usual, a tad of a meanie when I offered tea, coffee or water to Pete, who was fitting some bookshelves for me.

But I don’t have soft drinks or fruit juices around for myself or family. When we’re thirsty, we drink tap-water, next-to-nothing in cost and zero calories. Thirst-quenching too.

Yet . . .  it’s no wonder that we have an obesity problem in the United Kingdom.

As a population, we’re taking in calories, and lots of ’em. from sugary drinks — and that includes fizzy drinks, energy drinks and squashes and cordials, plus healthy-sounding fruit juices.

This is according to a draft report, Carbohydrates and Health by the prestigious Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).

It’s a weighty tome, over 360 pages. But the nub of it all is in Section 12, an easier-to-cope with few pages (pp210-18).

If nowt else, take in these two paragraphs (my highlighting):

The evidence considered in this report endorses a dietary pattern concerning carbohydrates that is based on whole grains, pulses (e.g. kidney beans, haricot beans, lentils), potatoes, vegetables and fruits, but limiting the amounts consumed of table sugar and rich sources of free sugars, such as preserves and sweet spreads, fruit juice, confectionery, biscuits, buns and cakes. The report also provides evidence that sugars sweetened beverages should be consumed in minimal (i.e. infrequently and in small) amounts.

National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that, as a whole, the population consumes more than the recommended amount of sugars and the intakes of fibre are below current advice. With the proposed increase of the dietary reference value for fibre and the reduction of the dietary reference value for free sugars, the difference between recommendations and the population’s intake would become even greater for both. In order to address this imbalance, there needs to be a change in the population’s diet so that people derive a greater proportion of dietary energy from carbohydrate-rich foods that are low in free sugars and high in dietary fibres.

I now feel a heck of a lot better about not having pop and juices in my place. Matter of fact, I’m now going to have a formal ban on them.



Thinking differently about obesity

Obesity is a complex issue.  So much so, that Public Health England identify over 100 factors that influence whether or not an individual is obese.

So we thought it would be interesting to start a list of some different ways of thinking about it and tackling it…

Let us know if you have thoughts to add @BhamFoodCouncil or add a comment…

Continue reading

Panel of Experts

We know have a Panel of Experts that is six-strong. So far, we have (in alphabetical order)

  1. Professor Tim Benton, the UK Champion for Global Food Security
  2. Dr Rosemary Collier, Director of the Warwick Crop Centre
  3. Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Safety, also leading the HMG Elliott Review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks
  4. Linda Hindle, former consultant dietician, now Lead Allied Health Professional for Public Health England
  5. Chris Mould, Executive Chair of the Trussell Trust
  6. Pam Warhurst, one of the founders of Todmorden’s Incredible Edible, now its Chair.

We decided to recruit a Panel of Experts for three reasons. First and foremost, it allows us to be up to date on the latest thinking in the disparate disciplines to do with food and food supplies.

Secondly, it gives us a ready and willing group of knowledgeable people whose brains we can pick when needed!

Thirdly, it also provides Birmingham with the chance to communicate the great things that are happening in the city to people who are key participants in influential networks.

As for them, each has told me how pleased they are to hear about what’s happening here. And they’re glad to contribute their thinking to help a major UK city become an even better place.

We’re in their debt.



Big Food, Big Soda . . . and Birmingham?

From cardiologist Aseem Malhotra (twitter @DrAseemMalhotra) to WHO Director General Margaret Chan, there is growing concern with corporate food producers of high calorie, low density foodstuffs with low nutritional value sponsoring healthy life-style activities.

No doubt encouraged by the sponsorship deals struck for the London Olympics, Coca-Cola is now paying for activities in Birmingham parks — with the blessing of the Council’s Health and Wellbeing Committee and, it would appear, Birmingham Public Health.

Should we be concerned?

Dr Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP (twitter @mgtmccartney), was sufficiently concerned about us to write an article in the BMJ Is Coca-cola’s antiobesity scheme the real thing?  Since when, she asks, did public health policy on mass activity get placed in the lap of large soft drinks companies?

AdrianPhillipsPublic Health Director Adrian Phillips talks of changing an ‘obesogenic environment’, and the city’s strategy includes changing it.

You could argue that our local environment now includes adverts for Coca-cola and their high calorie foodstuffs, adverts made particularly potent with the message associated with healthy lifestyles.

Dr McCartney concludes her BMJ article with these words: [The] ParkLives scheme allows Coca-Cola to tick the boxes for corporate social responsibility, but in actuality it is just clever advertising. Local councils should insist that the cash comes free of adverts—or not at all.

Everyone I’ve met to do with public health and our parks mentions this deal to me. Loose change by Coca-cola standards, this deal is big money, and by Parks Department standards, very big money.

But has our strapped-for-cash City Council, and Birmingham Public Health itself, been tainted by the deal and is their work on reducing obesity less likely to succeed?

And it’s not the only sponsorship deal in town from  a food industry corporate. Kellogg’s are sponsoring the great Holiday Kitchen scheme run by Accord Housing this summer. Accord’s side of the bargain is to ensure the Kellogg’s logo is seen . . .

I repeat: Should we be concerned?


Added notes
* See Sarah Boseley The shape we’re in: How junk food and diets are shortening our lives, page 86

See also this article by Laura Donnelly Coca-cola in controversy over £20M ‘anti-obesity’ drive for more arguments on the particular matter of the Birmingham pilot sponsorship deal, repeated now in other places.

Margaret Chan: Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol

Margaret Chan is hitting the headlines today because of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.

It’s worth remembering, however, her hard-hitting opening address to the 8th Global Conference on Public Health in Helsinki in June 2013.

chan_official_portraitShe didn’t mince her words, laying it down the line for the major food industry players. Prevention, she said, must be the cornerstone of the global response to these costly, deadly and demanding diseases [chronic noncommunicable diseases, the obesity epidemic]. Their root cause reside in non-health sectors. (my italics)

It’s worth reading all of her address, the latter half in particular:

Efforts to prevent noncommunicable diseases go against the business interests of powerful economic operators. In my view, this is one of the biggest challenges facing health promotion.

As the new publication makes clear, it is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation, and protect themselves by using the same tactics.

Research has documented these tactics well. They include front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt.

Tactics also include gifts, grants, and contributions to worthy causes that cast these industries as respectable corporate citizens in the eyes of politicians and the public. They include arguments that place the responsibility for harm to health on individuals, and portray government actions as interference in personal liberties and free choice.

This is formidable opposition. Market power readily translates into political power. Few governments prioritize health over big business. As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything.

Let me remind you. Not one single country has managed to turn around its obesity epidemic in all age groups. This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.

I am deeply concerned by two recent trends.

The first relates to trade agreements. Governments introducing measures to protect the health of their citizens are being taken to court, and challenged in litigation. This is dangerous.

The second is efforts by industry to shape the public health policies and strategies that affect their products. When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely. This, too, is well documented, and dangerous.

In the view of WHO, the formulation of health policies must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests.

Nutrition and public health

Food poverty, food insecurity

Food safety and integrity

Urban food growing

Food and the city economy

Global food security

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