Britain’s National Health Service says sugar is ruining the health of millions, and it’s now going to take drastic measures to stop it, namely imposing a sugar tax in hospitals on sugary beverages and snacks.
According to an interview with the Guardian, Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, it will now require hospitals throughout England to charge more for sugary soft drinks and snacks found in cafeterias and vending machines, which the agency hopes will slow sales. The taxes, an anticipated of £20m-£40m ($28-$58 million), will be used to support health initiatives for its more than 1.3 million employees.
“Because of the role that the NHS occupies in national life, all of us working in the NHS have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country,” Stevens said.
“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar-added foods across the NHS which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years over a rolling basis.
“By 2020, we’ve either got these practices out of hospitals or we’ve got the equivalent of a sugar tax on the back of them,” Stevens said.
According to the Guardian, poor diet choices contribute to about 40 percent of avoidable illnesses, claiming more lives than even cigarette smoking.
Stevens pointed toward recent reductions in sodium levels—about 15 percent in the last ten years—but few measures to reduce sugar have been introduced. “We need to set comparably ambitious targets for added sugar and hold the food industry to account for that with regulatory action,” Stevens said.
Of course, the UK isn’t the only country facing health crises related to too much sugar in the diet. The U.S. in particular is battling obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics fueled by poor diet, even despite national efforts to curb sugar consumption in particular.
Berkeley, Calif., recently passed a tax on sodas and other sugary beverages, but other initiatives have failed to take hold. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on excessively large sizes of soda was hailed as “unconstitutional” and eventually overturned.
But that may have been too much too soon. As Stevens told the Guardian, “The effectiveness of doing this is about doing it in a way that enables tastes to change back to what they were not so long ago, before we put ourselves on a national sugar high.”
Here in the U.S., a Minnesota-based health care system recently ended its contract ten years early with McDonald's in one of its facilities in an effort to eliminate unhealthy food options for its employees, patients, and visitors.
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