Jamie Oliver is back, and this time it’s war… on sugar
By Les Dunn
Ten years ago he railed against bad school dinners and, in that famous footage, faced defiant mothers passing burgers through the railings. Now the campaigning chef Jamie Oliver is taking on sugary drinks.
Jamie wants the Government to put a tax of 20p per litre on every soft drink containing added sugar, which he says could raise up to £1 billion a year – money that could be used to support preventative strategies in the NHS and in schools around obesity and diet-related disease. He’s started by applying the tax in his own restaurants (ring-fencing the £80,000 a year he estimates it will generate) and encouraged other restaurant chains to follow suit (so far, only Leon has got on board, but other chains are apparently mulling over the idea…).
He makes a powerful case for the sugar tax in a new hour-long documentary on Channel 4 this week, Jamie’s Sugar Rush, in which we meet teenagers with type 2 diabetes and older people with the disease who’ve had limbs amputated. We see young children with completely rotten milk teeth and, perhaps most shocking of all, babies in Mexico (where a sugar tax has had success) being given cola as if it were milk.
The alarming statistics come thick and fast: 26,000 primary school children a year are having rotten milk teeth removed, costing the NHS £30 million a year; we are recommended to eat no more than 7g of added sugar a day in our diets, but many people are routinely consuming more than 40g; when they enter primary school, a quarter of children are overweight or obese – and by the time they leave, a third of them are in those categories; there are 135 amputations in the UK each week, due to diabetes; type 2 diabetes costs the NHS £8 billion a year…
Jamie is coming at the issue well armed with information. He has been studying for a degree in nutrition at St Mary’s University in Twickenham and he has some heavyweight experts on his side, from The Royal College of GPs to the National Obesity Forum. Together they’ve created a ‘sugar manifesto’ that also demands proper Government regulation of sugar content in food, to replace the current voluntary scheme; a ban on all junk food marketing on TV before 9pm; and a revamp of labelling on foods to make it easier for consumers to work out what they contain, and what that could mean for their health.
I’ve seen a preview of the hour-long documentary and it’s powerful, shocking stuff (you might want to get your dinner out of the way first) – required viewing for parents, or indeed anyone who cares about their and the nation’s health.
After the screening, an emotional Jamie said, “I know I’ll get a lot of stick but, not in a smug way, I feel totally righteous. I’m doing this as a father. If we get this right, we’ve got an opportunity to make a lasting change in the next five years.”
The Government had previously ruled out the idea of a sugar tax but, according to Jamie, they are now making noises in the other direction, and a U-turn could be on the cards. After you’ve seen the show, you may well be thinking, as I now am, that it’s a necessity.
Jamie’s Sugar Rush screens this Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4; channel4.com/sugarrush