Sweets and Tax in the United Kingdom

The struggle against obesity in the United Kingdom has been ferocious and divisive. Five years ago, the government announced that it was considering taxing unhealtful foods such as those containing sugar, salt, and saturated fats. This did not sit well with the freedom-loving Brits. After all, their country is where the Magna Carta and the principle of common law came from.

Two years ago, researchers at Cambridge University produced a study that was published in the British Medical Journal. The subjects were 5,000 people from the school’s immediate area, and it was said to be “the first to look at the combined impact of the home, work and commuting environments.” The report said:

Results from previous studies into the impact of takeaways on obesity have been inconsistent, but most of them focused solely on the residential environment. This study of 5,442 individuals in Cambridgeshire — which accounted for differences between the participants, for example in age, sex, household income, smoking and levels of physical activity — is the first to look at access to takeaway foods at home, work and journeys in between.

In the course of living a normal, everyday life in their own neighborhood, in the area of their work, and in the course of their commute, the average person was exposed to 32 “takeaway outlets” or what we in America call fast food restaurants. That is an average, implying that some people ran into a lot more temptation, while others had a much lower number of daily encounters with such establishments. The stunning result was that people at the top end of the exposure scale “were almost twice as likely to be obese compared with those who encountered the fewest takeaways.”

Those with the highest combined exposure to takeaway outlets consumed an extra 40g of calorific food a week (equivalent to half a small serving of French fries from a typical takeaway food outlet), and had a BMI on average 1.21kg/m2 greater than those least exposed. The association was most pronounced for exposure near people’s place of work.

The study also found that working near such places is more of a risk than living near them. The researchers were careful to note that they had not proven a causal link, but obviously they felt that the numbers were very suggestive. The implication was that the government should take measures to restrict takeaway outlets, especially near workplaces. At the same time, some local authorities had come intuitively to the same conclusion, and placed some restrictions, mainly around schools and in major business districts.

Unwarranted self-congratulation

At the same time, England was congratulating itself for having ONLY a 35% childhood obesity rate, as compared with fellow U.K. countries Wales and Northern Ireland, where 40% of children were found to be obese. U.K. member Scotland felt especially smug, with only a mere 33% child obesity figure. Consulting the Millennium Cohort Study, the same researchers noticed that children were at the highest risk for obesity between ages 7 and 11.

These and other studies inspired the Royal College of General Practitioners, along with an alliance of partner organizations, to suggest that the government create a new branch along the lines of the emergency taskforces formed to deal with national disasters, terrorism and the like. This idea was probably born from a feeling that the country should regard the childhood obesity epidemic as worthy of “state of emergency” status.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tackling Takeaways could help cut obesity,” cam.ac.uk, 03/14/14
Source: “Childhood obesity surges between ages of seven and 11, study shows,” Telegraph.co.uk, 11/27/14
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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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