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Jamie Oliver and friends not sweet on sugary drinks

The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming – has launched an online petition hoping to persuade David Cameron’s Conservative government to introduce a tax on drinks that contain added sugar. If more than 100,000 people sign the petition then the Government is obliged decide whether the matter is worthy of parliamentary discussion.

Restaurants in the UK that are owned by Oliver already impose a levy on ‘sugary’ drinks. The funds from this levy have paid for the establishment of the Children’s Health Fund, which has been set up jointly by Oliver and Sustain. The ‘natural fast food’ chain Leon have also started to add a ten pence levy to all drinks that contain added sugar, with all money raised by the levy also going to the Children’s Health Fund.

“Since we started Leon in 2004 we have been helping people eat a diet low in sugar,” said the CEO and co-founder of Leon, John Vincent. “In that time, we’ve seen people and companies become even more addicted to the white stuff. It’s a human crisis as well as an economic one. I hope Leon is the first of many restaurants to join Jamie in adding a 10p levy to sugary drinks and create this positive change. We’re very interested to hear our customers’ views on whether this is the right way to do so.”

Health professionals advise that a tax of twenty pence per litre should be levied to any kind of non-alcoholic drink that has added sugar. This would equate to a seven pence increase for a regular, 330ml can. The tax would generate an annual total approaching one billion pounds. It is hoped that all the money raised should such a tax be introduced would be used to fund preventative work around childhood obesity and diseases related to a poor diet.

Childhood obesity has more than quadrupled in teenagers and doubled in preteen children since the mid 1980s. Obese children are much more likely to grow up to be obese adults than children whom maintain a healthy weight throughout their childhood.

“I’ve spoken to some of the brightest people in the medical world over the last few years and they all agree that action is urgently needed if we don’t want the NHS to crumble completely because of the costs of diet-related disease like type-2 diabetes,” said Oliver. “One doctor recently told me that diet-related disease is one of the defining crises of our time. We need the government to step up.”

Ben Reynolds is the deputy co-ordinator of Sustain, and said “We want everyone to sign this petition to get Government to take action and introduce this duty on sugary drinks. In the meantime, while they are dithering, we are really excited that the restaurant sector is taking the lead, showing that it can be done, and we are pleased to be helping them to set up the Children’s Health Fund to make sure that the money raised will make a difference to children across the UK.”

The Children’s Health Fund petition can be found at childrenshealthfund.org.uk

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