The new UK obesity strategy revealed details about the impending sugar tax

The new UK obesity strategy revealed details about the impending sugar tax

A new UK obesity strategy has shied away from mandatory sugar reduction targets for the food and drink industry, opting instead for a voluntary 20% cut by 2020.

The Department of Health plan, outlined today, said the reduction should include a 5% sugar drop across all sectors in the first year. The strategy will run for four years, starting in March next year and include 18- and 36-month intermediate targets.

The DoH said the programme will apply to all sectors of the food and drink industry including producers, retailers and service channels such as restaurants.

Meanwhile, today's obesity strategy gave further details of the UK government's sugar tax, first unveiled in March. Proceeds from the duty will help fund programmes to reduce obesity and encourage physical activity and balanced diets for school-age children, the DoH said. The department added that it is consulting with the UK Treasury over the tax and will pass the legislation next year.

The new strategy immediately took flak from both sides of the sugar debate. The British Soft Drink Association, which represents soft drinks manufactures, highlighted economic uncertainty in the UK and warned the government against a sugar tax that "analysis suggests will cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity".

However, supporters of the legislation called the obesity strategy "lightweight". "[It] contains little to excite those who want to see the UK taking a lead on addressing a health problem that threatens to make our children's lives shorter, clouded by avoidable disease, and to engulf our national health service," the Sugary Drinks Duty campaign said.

Meanwhile, health groups questioned food and drink trade bodies over claims that the sugar tax will fail to reduce overall calorie intake but also affect sales so much as to cause job losses.

In response, the BSDA said the affect will mostly be felt in the supply chain. "Clearly, a decline in sales will play a part but consumers switching products and changing where they buy their drinks will have the most impact," the body said.

A report commissioned by the BSDA and released this week said that the sugar tax could cost the UK up to 4,000 jobs.