Further salt and sugar levies could prevent two million cases of disease
Two million cases of disease over 25 years could be prevented if the Government were to introduce an industry-wide levy on salt and sugar, according to modelling commissioned by the new 'Recipe for Change' campaign coalition of health and food organisations.
Thirty six well-known health organisations, Royal Colleges and charities have now joined forces in the ‘Recipe for Change’ campaign, calling on the Government to introduce a new industry levy to make food healthier and raise additional revenues for investment in children’s health.
The Recipe for Change campaign launches alongside new modelling evidence conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine showing that an industry wide levy on sugar and salt used in manufactured foods or in restaurants and catering could:
- Reduce average salt intake per adult by up to 0.9g per day (11% of their current intake) and sugar by up to 15g per day (30% of their current intake)
- Prevent almost 2 million cases of chronic disease over 25 years including:
- over 1 million cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- 571,00 cases of type 2 diabetes
- 11,000 cases of cancer
- 249,000 cases of respiratory disease)
- Be worth up to £77.9 billion to the economy over 25 years (by delivering gains of more than 3.7 million quality adjusted life years)
Public polling conducted in May 2023 on behalf of the Obesity Health Alliance indicates that 68% of the public would support further food levies if the revenues raised were invested in children’s health. 73% of the public support action by Government to require food manufacturers to reduce sugar and salt from everyday foods.
Currently, in the UK, the population consumes 50% more sugar and 40% more salt than recommended. This is because 85% of our salt intake is already in food when we buy it and 60% of our sugar comes from just three categories: biscuits, confectionery and desserts.
One quarter of adults in England are affected by obesity (25% of men, 26% of women), and one third of children (37.7%) are above a healthy weight by the time they leave primary school. It has been estimated that in the UK there are approximately 7.6 million people living with cardiovascular disease, 4.3 million people living with type 2 diabetes and 375,000 new cases of cancer every year.
The food industry has repeatedly failed to meet sugar and salt reduction targets voluntarily – most recently reporting an overall average 3.5% reduction versus 20% target.
The campaign coalition argue that a new levy would encourage food and drink companies to change their recipes (known as ‘reformulation’) to become healthier, help to shift sales towards healthier products and potentially raise money for improving children’s health. It was one of the recommendations of the independent National Food Strategy (NFS), an independent review of the food system commissioned by the Government and led by Henry Dimbleby.
The coalition has launched a new ‘Recipe for Change’ campaign, arguing the levy could work either:
- By being applied at a rate of £3/ kg on sugar and £6/ kg on salt as proposed by the National Food Strategy. This would be applied to all sugar and salt used in manufactured foods or in restaurants and catering but would not apply to pure ingredients at retail, so home cooks would be unaffected.
- By targeting it to products within specified non-staple food categories, such as confectionery, biscuits, cakes, desserts, crisps and savoury snacks, using either a nutrient-based (e.g. salt, sugar, fats, calorie content) or other health classification systems.
Any new fiscal incentive for the food industry would build on the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which has succeeded in reducing overall sugar sold in soft drinks by 34.3%, whilst raising over £1.5 billion since 2018, enabling the Government to invest in expanding breakfast clubs, holiday activity and food programmes and primary sports and PE equipment. According to the National Food Strategy, an industry-wide sugar and salt reformulation tax could have the potential to raise up to £3 billion per year that could be reinvested into programmes designed to increase access to healthy food.
Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign manager at Sustain, says:
“People want the Government to act so healthy food becomes the affordable and easy choice. Introducing an industry levy on soft drinks encouraged companies to remove sugar and change their recipes, transforming what was being sold to us. But it’s still not enough when other unhealthy products continue to be so prevalent in our lives, driving up ill health. That’s why 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. 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.”
Anna Taylor, CEO of the Food Foundation says:
“People on low incomes find it hardest to escape the impact of low quality food. Lower income households would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the Government recommended healthy diet. The soft drinks industry levy has had a disproportionately positive effect on low income households, showing a sharper decrease in sugar purchases than in other households. It is vital that revenue from any new levy is used to improve access to nutritious foods to those who face the biggest barriers. Those on low incomes have the most to gain from Government taking action against companies driving ill health through unhealthy food.”
Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance says:
“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. 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.”
Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation says:
“This important analysis provides further evidence of the huge health benefits families stand to gain if we incentivise the food industry to reduce the amount of salt it puts in food. Most of the salt we consume is already in our food before we buy it, and as a result we often end up eating more salt than we realise. This puts us at increased risk of high blood pressure, which is a major cause of heart attack and stroke. The success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy should give the Government confidence that this is the right approach to take. Now is the time to be brave and consider further measures, including levies, which will make healthy eating easier for everyone.”
Anna Garrod, Director of Policy and Influencing at Impact on Urban Health says:
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to be healthy and eat well. But right now, families are faced with a flood of unhealthy options in the places they live, shop and go to school. It’s not right that children from families living on lower incomes are disproportionately impacted by lack of access to nutritious food. The government has a real opportunity to build on the success of the soft drinks industry levy to encourage food companies to change their recipes, so that healthy food can be accessible and affordable for all, no matter where they live.”
Dr Kawther Hashem, Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at Queen Mary University of London and Campaign Lead for Action on Sugar,
"Time and time again our research has shown there is huge potential for companies to change their recipes and reduce the amount of excess salt and sugar they add to food and drink products.
Often progressive companies want to do this, but without a level playing field they often find themselves at an unfair disadvantage against their competitors. It is time the Government intervened and made it easier for companies to compete in a healthier market, a market that ensures companies are pushed to improve their recipes for the sake of improving our health."
Read our campaign launch report.
Read our new research looking at the potential health and economic benefits of a levy.
See how much impact an industry wide salt and sugar levy could have in your area.
High sugar consumption is a key driver of excess weight and obesity and of tooth decay – which results in the highest number of hospital admissions in children aged six-ten years old. 24% of children in England have had experience of dental decay by age five.
High salt consumption is strongly associated with high blood pressure – increasing risk of stroke by 23% and risk of cardiovascular disease by 14%. Evidence also links high salt intake with an increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and kidney disease.
The UK Government has a target to halve childhood obesity levels by 2030. The target was set in 2018, but since then levels of overweight and obesity in children have only increased further. In 2017/18 34.3% of children were above a healthy weight by the time they left primary school. Government figures for 2021/22 show that 37.7% of children have overweight or obesity– more than 1 in 3.
However, the current administration has made a number of announcements that have paused legislation designed to tackle rising obesity, including the junk food marketing watershed and restrictions of junk food multibuy promotions.
‘Recipe for Change’ membership
The Recipe For Change coalition includes: Sustain, the Obesity Health Alliance, Food Foundation, Impact on Urban Health, British Heart Foundation, Action on Salt, Action on Sugar, Association of Directors of Public Health, Association for the Study of Obesity, Bite Back 2030, Blood Pressure UK, British Dental Association, British Dietetic Association, British Association for the Study of the Liver, British Liver Trust, British Medical Association, The Caroline Walker Trust, Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, Diabetes UK, Faculty of Public Health, Fix our Food, Health Action Research Group, Health Equalities Group/Food Active, Henry, Institute of Health Visiting, Magic Breakfast, Oral Health Foundation, Nesta, Nourish NI, Obesity Empowerment Network, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal Society of Public Health, School Food Matters, Soil Association, Sustainable Food Trust, World Cancer Research Fund UK.
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Published 14 Sep 2023