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News | Published July 26 2019

The Sugar Tax: A Review

In April, the government introduced the "sugar tax", a levy charged to the manufacturers of soft drinks with a high sugar content. Drinks containing more than 8 milligrams of sugar will be charged at a rate of 24 pence per litre with those containing 5-8 miligrams paying a slightly reduced rate of 18 pence. 

According to the Treasury, the levy is projected to bring in £240 million and has already led to 50 per cent of manufacturers reducing the sugar content of their drinks. To assess the response to this new levy, we spoke to Shann Jones, founder of Chuckling Goat and gut health expert:

Simply put, sugar is the new smoking. Sugar creates obesity, which is set to overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in 2035, according to Cancer Research UK. 

In terms of human biology, we were never designed to eat the amount of sugar we consume today. Normally the body makes its own glucose – an ingredient in sugar and the "energy of life" that powers your every cell – by breaking down healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbs. 

In the brain, sugar stimulates the "feel-good" chemical dopamine. When cave folks came across something sweet, their brains rejoiced, since sweet meant a rare glucose boost from the outside world – a survival hack. 

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors who hoovered up the rare bits of sugar upon which they stumbled on, such as honey or berries, probably had a better chance of survival. 

Our earliest ancestors likely consumed about 20 teaspoons of sugar per year. But now sugar is everywhere – and that evolutionary adaptation once meant to save us, is now killing us. The average UK adult eats 90 grams – or 22.5 teaspoons of sugar – per day. 

We eat the same amount of sugar in one day, that our ancestors consumed in a year. And it's killing us. 

We eat the same amount of sugar in one day, that our ancestors consumed in a year. And it's killing us. 

Sugar destroys the good bugs in your gut microbiome, just like pouring bleach into a river kills the fish. At the same time, sugar also feeds the bad bugs inside your gut, destroying the delicate balance of your internal ecosystem. 

This wholesale destruction of your gut microbiome - called dysbiosis - can contribute to inflammation, diabetes type 2, obesity, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis and Crohn's Disease, along with a raft of autoimmune disorders including eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, acne, IBS, arthritis, chronic fatigue, ME, allergies, anxiety and depression. 

The most easily visible impact of too much sugar on the human body is obesity. The gut microbiome of an obese person is measurably different than the microbiome of a lean person. 

Researchers have established that obese people have a different balance of microbes in their guts: more firmicutes, fewer bacteroidetes. Scientists have even transferred "obese" gut bugs into lean mice, and turned them into obese mice. And amazingly, it works the other way around as well. 

Gut bacteria from thin people can invade the intestines of mice carrying microbes from obese people. And these "thin bacteria" can keep mice from getting fat  but only if they eat a healthy diet that is high in good fats and low in sugar. 

 If current trends continue, overweight and obesity will overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in women in the next twenty years. While men are also more likely to be overweight or obese than women, obesity has a bigger effect on women in terms of cancer. 

Some of the most common types of cancer caused by obesity are breast and womb cancer, which predominantly affect women.It really is all about your gut bugs - which you can affect by changing your diet. And the easiest way to do that is cutting down on sugar. 

If current trends continue, overweight and obesity will overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in women in the next twenty years. 

Keeping a harmful substance legal, but taxing it heavily, works to decrease its public usage. We know that prohibiting alcohol,as they tried to do in the US in the 1920s, doesn't work - it just drove the alcohol market underground into the hands of criminals. 

By positive contrast, taxing cigarettes has actually resulted in a decline in smoking. The fall in smoking rates in the UK is a massive win for cancer prevention and tobacco control policy. 

In the first half of the 20th century, it's estimated that up to 80 per cent of men smoked. Today, 17 per cent of UK males are smokers. Smoking rates for women peaked in the late 1960s and have been falling ever since.

We don't have to wonder - we have a great working example in front of us . When you're trying to influence public behaviour, making something more expensive by taxing it is a sensible and effective thing to do. 

When you're trying to influence public behaviour, making something more expensive by taxing it is a sensible and effective thing to do. 

So, I'm a big fan of the sugar tax. But it needs to be accompanied by a lot of education, and a crackdown on the appealing advertising of sugary products, similar to the process undertaken with tobacco products. 

Education is key and much needed! 

Last year, figures showed that only 1 in 7 people in the UK knew obesity was a cause of cancer. Moving forward, I can think of no better recommendations than the ones put forward by Cancer Research UK, and I would add my voice to theirs. 

They're calling on the government to ban junk food adverts on TV before the 9pm watershed to help protect children, with similar protections online, and to restrict unhealthy price promotions in supermarkets. They've also launched a UK-wide campaign to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer. Public policy needs to be informed by science - and the science is in: sugar usage is as harmful as tobacco. 

Public policy needs to be informed by science - and the science is in: sugar usage is as harmful as tobacco. 

We need to throw the full weight of the government behind reversing this harmful trend, before it creates another disastrous wave of preventable cancers to swamp the NHS. 

Shann Nix Jones is a gut health expert, the author of three best-selling books on the subject and the Director of Chuckling Goat.


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Authored by

Shann Jones
Director of Chuckling Goat and gut health expert
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July 26 2019

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