Obesity is something we are all familiar with. Having more than trebled in the last three decades, and affecting almost a quarter of the UK population, it is a serious cause for concern. The reasons behind this are complex and poorly understood, ranging from modern day lifestyles to health conditions. This coincides with a recent shift in mentality towards the importance of a healthy lifestyles, which has resulted in the crisis being a hot topic of conversation.
In an effort to tackle the problem, the government has implemented a ‘sugar tax’. That is, a tax on drinks dependent on their sugar content. The manufacturer has the choice to pay themselves or to make the consumer pay by increasing the cost of their product, however it is almost unanimously agreed the burden is likely to be placed on the customer. The tax has sparked controversy, with some celebrating it as a step in the right direction and others criticising its efficacy and fairness. While I wholeheartedly praise and agree with any promotion of eating well, exercising and general wellbeing, I fall into the second category.
It seems confusing to me that the government, in a bid to help the population, would implement a tax.
It is not disputed that the consumers of many of these, and similar, products are of a lower income background. I find it hard to believe that this small increase in price will do much to change the behaviour of someone who has a habit of regular consumption. While it may do more to prevent the habit forming, this means that consumers are paying more money to benefit other people and not themselves. A similar phenomenon was seen in tobacco use, which in theory should be largely reserved for the wealthy. The result was simply that the poor got poorer, and it seems as though this could end the same way.
Furthermore, it seems confusing to me that the government, in a bid to help the population, would implement a tax. Perhaps I am cynical, but it seems as though the largest beneficiary of this scheme is in fact the government, which no doubt will receive large amounts of money as a result. If you take away the supposedly goodhearted motivations behind it, the crux of the situation is simply that money will be taken from the poor and given to the government. If the tax was in conjunction with other schemes, for example money spent on education, subsidies for healthier foods, regulations on advertising and the promotion of better habits, I could then see the goodwill behind it.
There is also, of course, the question of living in what has been termed as a ‘nanny state’. It is debatable whether the government has the right to determine what people eat or drink, and to effectively punish them for purchasing what has been deemed to be wrong. This feels to me like an encroachment on my freedom. The problem of obesity is not fizzy drinks. The moderate intake of sugary drinks, snacks and ‘unhealthy’ foods does not cause obesity. The problem lies with over-consumption of food, not the intake of any sugar at all. It is up to the person to decide what to eat or drink, and ideally to do so in a healthy way. There is also a strong disregard for any medical issues, which could seriously damage the mental health of many people.
While I praise the effort to combat this growing crisis, the government’s motivations and the legitimacy of their actions are, in my opinion, questionable at best.