Sweet upshots of the Sugar Tax

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

This week the parties in the House of Commons are wrangling over the NHS, mainly about money and the need to tackle the big challenges of funding social care in anticipation of major demographic changes. That said, satisfaction with the delivery of local health services has risen in the last six years.

However, we too often overlook the need to focus on long term preventative work to keep people healthy for longer so that they need to rely less on their local NHS – or indeed to grow up fitter and remain healthy!

The biggest of these issues is surely obesity?

And as such on Wednesday, we held an important debate in Parliament on the best ways to spend the monies that will be raised by the forthcoming Soft Drinks Industry Levy, better known as the Sugar Tax, on sport in schools. Last year the Government announced that, by 2018, soft drinks producers will have to reduce the level of artificial sugars in their drinks or face having to pay a tax towards to the public health costs. The move followed evidence that obesity & connected health conditions affect 1 in 3 young people, and cost the NHS around £6bn a year. Specifically, I am seeking answers from Ministers as to how many local primary school kids in Peterborough are overweight or clinically obese.

There is a cross party consensus that the funds raised from the levy should be used to improve sport in schools, but also to foster a long-term, sustainable strategy for sports and recreation after school and during half-term breaks and, crucially, to open-up school facilities to community groups free of charge between 4pm and 6pm.

Some local after school activity clubs across the UK have already caught on and the clubs are hugely popular and regularly attract hundreds of young people. As part of the plan for utilising the £520m raised from the tax, more money needs to be made available to “pump prime” new projects in cities like Peterborough, with young and growing populations and where childhood obesity is an increasing incidence and problem.

Tackling childhood obesity and ensuring that young people have a healthy and active lifestyle is vital to development and attainment. By reducing sugar consumption and using funds raised for a dedication expansion of school sport, the Government will be acting to safeguard our children. Peterborough could do with more after-school and holiday sport camps offering young people the opportunity to try something new and exercise in an enjoyable 
way.

I believe that the monies from the Sugar Tax will boost access to these activities across the country, and the Government needs to look further into how we let community groups access school sport facilities for free between 4pm and 6pm to run these groups.

Of course, parents and children need to make good choices on exercise and nutrition and take personal responsibility for their health but starting early to be proactive means that the obesity epidemic can at least be managed if not eradicated totally.