The rise of the Sugar Smart City

While trying to make some coffee this morning among the chaos of children wolfing down their breakfasts whilst they prepared and packed their lunches and bags, it was difficult to hear the tv blaring the cheery breakfast news. In fact, it was difficult enough to think when also faced with questions from all directions including how to iron a tie, whether bread defrosted could be re-frozen again because some ‘better’ bread for sandwiches was spotted in the fridge and where was that middle child—did he sleep in, AGAIN?! However, my ears did perk up when I overheard the news presenter announce that from today there would be a new sugar tax in Brighton and Hove. Without giving any further details, this sounded a little far-fetched. Could a city council really impose their own sugar tax and would this mean the end of Brighton rock and seaside sweets?

Reading between the headlines, it turns out that rather than taxing sugary fixes, Brighton and Hove City Council has launched their Sugar Smart City Initiative. Sugar Smart City is an effort to tackle the increasing levels of tooth decay, obesity and diabetes in Brighton and Hove by aiming to decrease their high level of sugar consumption. Sugar Smart City focuses on what everybody can do to decrease their own sugar consumption in their homes, in schools and in restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

Upon first reading about this initiative you might think that the people of Brighton and Hove must be really unhealthy if the Council is doing this and sadly, with statistics such as one in four children in Brighton & Hove are already overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, you wouldn’t be far wrong. In fact, diet-related diseases in Brighton and Hove are costing the NHS in the region of £80 million per year and more than 300 children were admitted to hospital for teeth extraction in 2012/13. Think that’s bad? Well, don’t feel so smug because in reality, these stats are actually below the national average which should beckon the question, why aren’t we all living in a Sugar Smart City?

As you can imagine, there are many partners involved with the Sugar Smart City initiative including the schools, Public Health Schools Programme, Change4Life, the Food Partnership and Sustain and they are obviously integral to the success of the scheme. Their involvement is not surprising as they will all share common objectives of promoting health. But I wonder if it is the necessary partnership with businesses that makes it difficult for all of us to live in a Sugar Smart City.

Although the initiative does not oblige businesses to charge a ‘sugar tax’ it does champion the fact that Jamie Oliver has introduced a 10p voluntary charge on all soft drinks with added sugar in all of his restaurants and cheekily asks businesses if they can also ‘join the growing numbers signing up to support schemes aimed at improving children’s health and food education?’. With the ‘stick’ being a bit of healthy peer pressure and the ‘carrot’ of having free access to the Childrens’ Health Fund logo for use on menus, posters advertising membership of the scheme, a newsletter that businesses can use to periodically mailshot customers and use of the Childrens’ Health Fund email signature banners, the hope is that many more businesses will sign up to the scheme. However, I wonder how many businesses will also be reluctant to do something they believe will put off punters who may resent any extra charges, voluntary or not. After all, they aren’t Jamie. It hasn’t even been 24 hours and already there is a backlash in the shape of a change.org petition to ‘Stop Brighton Council’s Plan for a Tax on Sugar’. Then again, at the moment there are only 10 signatures vs the 146,629 submitted to parliament that support a sugar tax that was launched by—you guessed it—Jamie. The man cannot fail to impress.

In any case, it’s very early days for the scheme and we will have to wait and see if it is successful. Let’s hope that Brighton and Hove can do it and our own cities can learn from this initiative and take it on because the stark truth is that the rest of us need to cut down on sugar for our health and to reduce the pressure on the NHS. So for the moment I think seaside traders can rest assured that Brighton rock is not suddenly under the threat of a new tax although maybe it is the just right time to be thinking about some sugar-free versions. With the right ingredients, you never know. We may see that Childrens’ Health Fund logo stamped on some rocks someday.

Now for the recipe…Obviously, not with sugar but how about some Sugar snap crisps? They are a healthy alternative to the usual snacks and something children can help themselves to with impunity.

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