December 4: Sugar tax only part of strategy we need to fight diabetes

From: Stephen Ryan, Diabetes UK Regional Manager for the North of England.

DIABETES is the blight of our times, its seriousness badly misunderstood. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented and is not linked to lifestyle. This isn’t true for everyone – the vast majority of cases of Type 2 could be delayed or stopped altogether and the potential for prevention is staggering. Since 1996 the number of people with this invasive condition has more than doubled – from 1.4 million then to 3.5 million today, with around 549,000 people currently walking around with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight is undoubtedly once of the biggest risk factors when it comes to Type 2 diabetes and as a nation our collective waistband continues to stretch but at last we’re beginning to wake up to it – and some real solutions have been proposed. The highly publicised Public Health England report (Sugar reduction: the evidence for action) and the Health Select Committee report on childhood obesity have both given exceptionally clear recommendations – based on evidence of what works.

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These include reducing price promotions so that we are not steered towards unhealthier food; a tax on sugar sweetened drinks; and stopping kids being relentlessly targeted to consume sugar and fat laden foods which are no longer treats, but an everyday staple.

The Government’s forthcoming childhood obesity strategy needs to be brave, bold and far-reaching. It must encompass all the recommendations made by PHE and the Health Select Committee and ban marketing of junk food to children on the internet and before the 9pm watershed on television. They should introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks and enforce public procurement rules which say schools, the NHS, and other public bodies must provide healthy food.

No measure will work alone, but there is evidence that a combination of actions like these can help reduce the nation’s waistline.

Of course, we also need to look at ourselves in the mirror, and show a bit more discipline. Many people find that hard but with 60 per cent of the UK population being overweight or obese there is a real need for individuals to take personal responsibility for their health too. We don’t want to be here in another 20 years’ time trying to help the estimated five million people who will have diabetes by then. Millions of lives are being affected now and the future of the NHS is under threat because of the spiralling cost of treating diabetes.