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Government 'must tackle promotions focused on sugary and unhealthy products'

By Arj Singh and Jack Maidment

Published 21/01/2016

Experts say obesity could replace smoking as the main cause of cancer deaths within 15 years
Experts say obesity could replace smoking as the main cause of cancer deaths within 15 years

Consumers should not be forced to pass "chicanes of sugar" at the petrol station or be offered a kilo of chocolate with their newspaper, an influential MP has said as she called for action on obesity.

Health Select Committee chair Sarah Wollaston favours a sugar tax but said the Government must also tackle promotional and marketing strategies.

Ms Wollaston said 40% of what households spend on food and drink to have at home comes from price promotions, while 37% of confectionery is bought on impulse.

The promotions are focused on sugary and unhealthy products and therefore have the effect of encouraging people to consume more rather than save money, the Tory MP said.

So in order to tackle the nation's obesity problem, which Ms Wollaston said costs the NHS around £5.1 billion a year, a tax on sugary drinks needs to be accompanied by action on promotional tools.

During a backbench debate on childhood obesity, she said: "It is a staggering fact that around 40% of what we spend on consumption of food and drink at home comes from price promotions, but unfortunately these aren't saving us as much money as we would assume, they are just encouraging us to consume more.

"Within British supermarkets a huge amount of those promotions is actually going on sugary and other unhealthy products so I would call on the Government as part of their strategy to tackle that and that we need to have a clear and level playing field that looks at rebalancing price promotions.

"But that has to be done in a way that doesn't just drive us to promoting other products such as alcohol, so a very careful evidence-based look."

She added: "Do I want to have a kilogram of chocolate for almost nothing when I buy my newspaper? Of course I do but please don't offer it to me, please don't make me pass the chicanes of sugar at the check out while queuing to pay for petrol.

"Because we know that 37% of all the confectionery we buy comes on impulse, it doesn't matter how much your're intending not to buy it, if it's presented to you on impulse we know that's an extraordinarily powerful tool and that's why it happens."

Ms Wollaston praised NHS England's chief executive for imposing a "sugar tax" in hospitals in England - charging more for high-sugar drinks and snacks in their cafes and vending machines.

She then again stated the case for a sugary drinks tax, a measure currently being examined by the Downing Street policy unit, claiming it helped reduce sugar consumption among the less well off.

Ms Wollaston said: "What we know from Mexico where they introduced a one peso per litre tax on sugary drinks was that by the end of the year the greatest reduction in use, and indeed it was 17% by the end of the year, was in those who were the highest consumers of sugary drinks.

"It drove a change in behaviours because the whole point for this sugary drinks tax is that no-one should have to pay it at all.

"To those who say it's regressive I would say no it's not regressive, in fact the regressive situation is the situation we have right now with the greatest harms on the least advantaged in society."

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