British lawmakers reportedly ramped up pressure on the government Monday to levy a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks following the publication of a hard-hitting report that links childhood obesity to the easy availability of unhealthy foods. The government has reportedly refused to approve such a tax in the past.
U.K.'s parliamentary health committee noted that measures to “improve food environment” must be used to tackle childhood obesity and called for strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drinks like sugary sodas. Obesity-related treatments cost the state-run health service 5.1 billion pounds ($7.65 billion) every year, according to Reuters. The report also stated that a quarter of all children from poor families are obese by the time they leave primary school -- double the rate among children from the most affluent households.
“We do not believe that this is an attack on low income families as industry lobbyists will no doubt claim, but rather an essential part of trying to reverse the harm caused by these products,” Sarah Wollaston, a lawmaker with the Conservative party and head of the health committee, said in a note to the Guardian.
The report came a month after a review by Public Health England -- the country’s primary public health organization -- which also backed similar measures. The report also pointed to evidence from Mexico, which introduced a 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in 2013 and saw a 6 percent reduction in their consumption.
The call for higher taxes on sugary drinks gained ground with policymakers after British celebrity chef and author Jamie Oliver launched a petition for such a tax earlier this year. At the same time, an alliance of 19 health organizations, which included medical colleges, public health organizations and charities, also launched the Obesity Stakeholder Group to lobby for change.
However, the beverage industry has reportedly argued that such a tax would hit poor families the hardest, and complained that lawmakers had "swallowed" the lobbyists' agenda.
"It's disappointing that the committee has missed its chance to add a robustly independent voice to the obesity debate," Ian Wright, director general of Britain's Food and Drink Federation, told Reuters.