By Christopher Leneghan

Recently, Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and healthy-eating campaigner, addressed the House of Common’s Health Committee, urging them to be “big and bold” by introducing a sugar tax on fizzy drinks.

Recent studies continue to prove just how dangerous sugar is, with it being called the “empty calorie” as it holds no nutritional benefit whatsoever. To protect ourselves form the risks of sugar, which includes obesity, type-2 diabetes and bad teeth, the government has advised an adult of normal weight to consume six or seven teaspoons, or 25g, of sugar a day, and slightly less for children. However, a typical can of fizzy drink contains nine teaspoons of sugar. Even more shockingly, some of the worst offenders are drinks aimed predominantly at children. Take Capri-Sun as an example: One 330ml pouch of the juice contains 33g of sugar, 9g above the recommended amount for adults. Oliver hopes his campaigning for the introduction of the levy will help challenge this massive intake of sugar and decrease obesity levels in children.

Oliver went on to ask, “Who is running the country? The businesses that are profiting from ill health, or is it us?” This is not the first time this question has cropped up in the discussion concerning the dangers of sugar. A report by the British Medical Journal earlier this year revealed that scientists who advise the government on how best to tackle obesity in the country actually benefit form research funding from companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo, amongst other sugar-driven, multi-national corporations. Indeed, this does create suspicions as to how much power such companies hold in our political system.

This discussion revolves around the government’s child obesity strategy, which is set for release in a number of months. Obesity is on the rise in the UK, with more and more reports showing a growth of obesity in our society, particularly amongst children. Much of the focus of media coverage and David Cameron is dominated by the financial effect that obesity is having on the economy, with the Prime Minister claiming obese people could risk losing their benefits if they do not lose weight, and a reported 20% of the health budget in Northern Ireland treating conditions related to obesity. Although much of this rhetoric creates anger towards overweight people, resulting in ‘fat-shaming,’ the fact still remains that there are companies making copious amounts of money from this. On the other hand, a 20% sugar tax has been estimated to raise about £1bn a year for society.

There is a wide range of views on the topic, and on Oliver, who is often viewed as out-of-touch with the working class community, and has been labeled ‘ignorant’ when he produced “cheap meals” that exceeded a realistic budget for lower-waged people. However, whether you are a strong believer in the free market and customer demand, or stand for the idea of customer freedom and see this as nothing more than fat-shaming and restricting the rights of the consumer, I find it impossible to deny that companies have a duty to alert their customers to how much sugar their drinks contain. It is one thing to have fizzy drinks that contain enormous amounts of sugar, but it is unjustifiable to have a drink that is marketed as a healthy alternative, with pictures of ripe fruit and phrases such as “made from fresh, spring water,” and have no warning of the dangers or risks of such a large amount of sugar. Jamie Oliver has challenged junk food school dinners in the past, and I hope he is successful in his new campaign.

To find out more on this campaign, search Action On Sugar.