The UK needs a new tax on salt and sugar to win the battle against obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, a campaign group has said.
The move would prevent 2million preventable cases of the diseases over the next 25 years, according to a coalition of health bodies.
It would also slash the number of obese Brits by a tenth and raise £3billion a year, which should fund healthy eating programmes, Recipe for Change said.
Charities behind the group claim a new food taxing regime is needed to help Brits lose weight ‘in a food environment that is rigged against them’.
Britain needs a new tax on salt and sugar in food to win the battle against obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer , a campaign group of charities says
This chart shows the percentage of people in England who are overweight (pink), obese (red) and morbidly obese (deep red)
Recipe for Change, a coalition of health charities that has the backing of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Royal Society for Public Health, made the call in a report.
They hope to pressure the Government to go further on tackling obesity — an issue which costs the NHS an estimated £6.5billion each year.
In their report the coalition suggest two options for salt and sugar levies.
One is a flat charge of £3 per kg of sugar and £6kg of salt in foods, with an exception being made for pure versions of these ingredients to avoid taxing home cooks.
Such measures were proposed by former Government food adviser and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain Henry Dimbleby to help combat Britain’s obesity crisis.
But he resigned from his role in March this year, citing a lack of appetite within Government for necessary changes.
The other option would only apply a levy to specific non-staple foods like sweets, cakes, crisps and snacks.
To back up its call, Recipe for Change commissioned modelling from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on the impact of an industry-wide sugar and salt tax.
It shows that a tax would cut the amount of salt and sugar that the average Brit eats per day by 0.9g and 15g, respectively.
Such reductions would help prevent 2million cases of preventable disease brought on from high salt or sugar consumption over the next 25 years.
This includes 1million cases of cardiovascular disease, 571,000 cases of type 2 diabetes and 11,000 cases of cancer, as well as 249,000 cases of respiratory disease.
The modelling also suggests that a sugar and salt tax would reduce the number of overweight and obese Brits by up to 10.9 per cent.
The average adult Brit consumes around 8.6g of salt every day, while women consume 44g of sugar and men have 55g.
By keeping people healthier — and able to work — for longer, the changes would add £77.9billion to the economy in the same time period, the report claims.
NHS recommendations state Brits should eat 6g of salt and 30g of sugar each day.
Recipe for Change modelled its proposed tax off the success of the soft drink levy, introduced in 2018, which led to manufacturers reformulating their recipes and reducing the overall sugar levels in their drinks by 34.3 per cent.
Katharine Jenner, director of the Obesity Health Alliance, one of the collation’s core members, said the case for action from Government was clear.
This graph shows the impact of the levy on sugar in soft drinks on the amount of total sugar sold (yellow line) and impact on soft drink sales (red line). Recipe for Change argue this shows such measures work and don’t actually harm the industry itself
‘Hundreds of policies to address obesity have failed to deliver, because they have relied on individuals having to change their behaviour, in a food environment that is rigged against them,’ she said.
‘The food we buy is jam packed with sugar and most of our food comes ready salted — we need to put healthier food on the shelves by introducing a levy on industry to encourage them to change their recipes.’
Previous research has suggested a salt and sugar tax could potentially raise up to £3billion per year.
Recipe for Change said that profits from enforcing the levy should go back into programmes promoting healthy eating, particularly in children.
Polling done by the Obesity Health Alliance suggests 68 per cent of the public support such a strategy if revenue was invested in children’s health.
Recipe for Change argued that a tax is needed, as voluntarily calling for food manufactures to cut sugar and salt has failed to make an impact.
It pointed to Government analysis showing this approach had only reduced levels of salt and sugar by 3.4 per cent compared to a 20 per cent target.
Barbara Crowther, children’s food campaign manager at Sustain, another of the coalition members, said ministers should build on the success of the soft drink levy.
‘Recipe for Change is calling on Government to build on what works and make it less profitable for companies to manufacture and sell unhealthy products and incentivise better business in healthier food,’ she said.
‘We need investment in children’s health more than ever right now, and this could also be a great way to raise revenues from a junk food industry that is making huge profits at the expense of our health.’
Responding to the report, a Government spokesperson said: ‘We have already brought in measures to reduce the amount of sugar and salt in foods, particularly those aimed at children.
‘Our Soft Drinks Industry Levy has nearly halved the amount of sugar in soft drinks, while the sugar reduction programme has significantly reduced the amount of sugar in foods popular with children – including breakfast cereals and yogurts.
‘Thanks to our salt reduction programme, the amount of salt in food has fallen by around 20 per cent — helping to prevent nearly 70,000 heart attacks and strokes while reducing pressure on the NHS.
‘We are also taking firm action to tackle obesity — which costs the NHS around £6.5 billion a year — including by restricting the placement of less healthy foods in stores and online and introducing calorie labelling on menus.’
Previous Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ‘world-leading’ obesity plan in 2020, partly inspired by how his own weight had put him at greater risk of becoming severely ill when he caught Covid.
However, his Government shied away from the more radical proposals put forward by then food tsar Mr Dimbleby, such as taxes on salt and sugar, after it was calculated that the proposals could add £60 to each person’s annual food bill.
Those proposals that did survive — a ban on buy one get one free deals on unhealthy snacks and junk food adverts before 9pm — have since been delayed by current PM Rishi Sunak.
An estimated 64 per cent of British adults are now overweight, with rates expected to soar even more in the future.
Eating too much sugar can contribute to weight gain with obesity itself linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and strokes as well as some cancers.
Excess salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure which puts organs like your heart under extra strain and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide