Thursday 17 March 2016

The Sugar Tax is a smokescreen

In the past few days we've had the budget which brought many 'Sugar Tax' supporters out in joy at the Conservative's announcement of the introduction of a Sugar Tax which will come in to play from 2018, delayed until then to give the company's enough time to change their damaging mixtures, or find a way around the tax.

Let's just dwell on that point for a second. The Government are admitting there's a problem with sugar and that something drastic needs to be done, highlighted by the fact they said they didn't want any new taxes only a few months ago and that David Cameron really didn't want this tax, but are not willing to take immediate action. They will protect the financial interests of these companies and put their profits OVER the public's health. In no other situation can i see how the authorities would take this stance. "we know what you're doing is bad, but we'll let you carry on until you figure out how to change so as not to damage your profits."

Whilst many will argue that a sugar tax is a positive step, the reality is that this is simply a smokescreen and deflection tool aimed at pacifying people in order for the government to be able to show they are doing something at least to protect and positively influence the nations health, whilst implementing many more damaging cuts to welfare budgets affecting many of societies most vulnerable.

This week i have also sat in on meetings where the focus was public health, nutrition, poverty and food issues. What i have come away with feeling is that no longer can we as individuals or communities afford to rely on the government to protect us or even look after our health. I have a genuine worry for the nations health. Obesity rates are only heading one way as are diabetes. In addition to this 'lifestyle diseases' which covers many more health issues including cancer is on the rise. The NHS is crippled, on it's knees and is now destined to live out the rest of it's existence merely funnelling funds in to profit driven organisations. If you think of getting ill and your first thought is to think how a hospital will look after you or the NHS is your safety blanket, then you really need to wake up. The NHS is now a lottery with very few winning tickets, do not entrust your health with this organisation. Sadly it is still full from the bottom up with people who want to help and make a difference, such as junior doctors forced to strike due to poor pay and working conditions, as well as many nurses now stretched from working in smaller teams. Let us also take this chance to look at the food on offer in hospitals, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself staying over in a hospital you'll need to be fed, if you are ill and weak your body is crying out for good nutritious foods, that will support recovery with the right vitamins and minerals. But no, what you will likely get is nutritionally poor food made with the focus clearly on costs and keeping them low. As a nutritionist, this absolutely disgusts me. It sickens me that we sit back and allow this. We allow the sick and elderly to be fed food which is not fit for purpose, it does not aid recovery and it certainly does not taste great. At the very least if you're going to eat poor quality food you want some flavour from it.

Anyway, back to the sugar tax. The expected revenue generated from this will be £520m per year. A sum of money most people can only dream of and could probably never really comprehend, but it is a very small drop in the ocean of a near £16 BILLION industry. What the industry has been really worried about though is that a sugar tax will lower consumption, this is what really hurts profits. Therefore, expect more than a fight from the companies, more corners will be cut and more artificial sweeteners with effects we'll not be able to find out about to be rushed through for use by the big companies.

The increase in sugar consumption over the years has played a huge part in the current obesity crisis, to deny this is flat out stupidity. Some senior members of suspect boards will however stand firm on the main issue being calorie consumption, whilst they ignore that it is way too easy to over consume on sugary products than it is fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrate sources, pulses and beans.

If we are to put a dent in the major health issues there needs to be more done than just taxing sugary drinks. There needs to be a strong and robust plan to follow through on this, it needs to be a spring board for action and not token gesture. Public Health England has proposed that weaning the nation from it's sugar addiction would save in the region £15bn and almost 80,000 lives in a generation. Those are huge figures. The £520 million generated from the Sugar Tax per year doesn't look all that impressive now does it.

Ultimately this post is not about the problems we are facing, but the actions we need to take. The actions you the individual need to take. The chances are if you become ill you will not be looked after to any decent standard, you are now just a number, a report, a case and a statistic. Do not be fooled in to thinking the NHS, your GP or Public Health bodies have the resources to keep you alive, keep you well and support recovery from lifestyle diseases. If you are lucky enough however you'll drop on an individual with enough fight and energy left to help you through your problems, but are you really willing to take that chance with your health and life? The reality though is longer waiting times, less consultation time, less time with your GP, increased pressure on staff meaning slipping standards (they are human after all) and ultimately a system where the people it serves become the ones which suffer. All in the name of money. If the government can magic money out of thin air for wars to send troops to then why can't they simply magic some funds for the war on a much bigger killer than terrorism, lifestyle diseases?!

Do not wait to fight illness until it comes to you. Your fight should start now with an improved diet. Eat more fruit and vegetables, drink enough water, cut down on sugary snacks and foods laden with trans fats. Become a conscious eater and care where your food comes from. You would not put red diesel in a Ferrari so why fuel your body with junk. You only get one life and watching it pass you by whilst you are out of breath, sat on the sofa, unable to sleep and addicted to junk food is not living. It is existing to pay taxes to a government that does not care about you. Exercise is key too. Give your body a reason to live; move more, find an activity you enjoy and push yourself on a regular basis.

The Sugar Tax is a start, but unless there's more to come it is nothing more than a smokescreen. Your health is in your own hands and you only have yourself to blame if you don't look after it.

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