Sugary Drinks, Diet Drinks and the Sugar Tax
Boris Johnson has declared war on the sugar tax, claiming it unfairly discriminates against the poor. But sugar is already unfairly hitting the poor: with more obesity, more diabetes and a range of related health problems. But there is a reason to be wary of the sugar tax (see below).
Could anything be worse for our health than sugary drinks? Cola drinks can have 10 teaspoonfuls of sugar, some fruit juices 14 teaspoonfuls and energy drinks up to 19 teaspoonfuls of sugar.
About 20% of added sugar comes from these drinks going up to 33% in teenagers. The amount of calories coming from sugary drinks has risen from 4% in the 1970s to 9% in 2001. These have helped fuel the obesity epidemic.
They are thought to cause 183,000 deaths a year including 44,000 from heart disease.
Plenty of studies show they are dangerous. Particularly scary was a study following 40,000 people in Japan for 10 years which found women drinking one or two sugary drink daily had a 83% increase in strokes. Most studies have found increases in heart attacks ranging from 14 -35%; these increase with number of drinks consumed daily (for instance 14% with one drink daily and 21% with two drinks daily in one study).
And that’s not the only problem. At Boston University they found one sugary drink a day reduced fertility by 25% in women and 33% in men. Another study found a 30% increase in depression and this increased as the number of drinks increased. Sugary drinks increase gout attacks by 75%. Another study found that having one sugary drink daily accelerated the progression of osteoarthritis. Women having one or more sugary drinks doubled their risk of diabetes. One additional sugary drink daily increases the risk of childhood obesity by 60%.
These drinks are bad news. So should we switch to diet drinks and avoid all that sugar? Surely it has to be better?
Well think again. See the leaflet “Diet drinks: the Hidden Dangers”
What surprised me when I started looking at the data was that diet drinks caused the same problems as sugary drinks (more heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity) but often to a greater degree (including more weight gain). The large increase in strokes in some studies was especially worrying.
To sum up: sugary drinks and diet drinks slowly destroy our health. For anyone with heart disease, diabetes, stroke its worse: the negative effect of even one daily drink can easily cancel out any benefits of medication.
But where does this leave the sugar tax?
This was surely a good idea. Certainly I thought so. But this data has made me think again. My guess is that manufacturers will simply reduce the sugar content of drinks and add in equally (and perhaps more) harmful artificial sweeteners. The dangers will remain or even be amplified. The tax is not going to make us any healthier. The answer is simple: avoid these drinks, whether they are the sugar-filled or diet variety.