The U.K Takes on Big Sugar

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at


Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at

Popular restaurateur and TV chef Jamie Oliver is taking a stand against sugar due to its role in causing obesity and other diet-related diseases. Among other legislative solutions, he’s even proposing a 20-pence per liter levy on soft drinks with added sugar in the United Kingdom, hoping to reduce consumption by 15% and raise up to 1 billion pounds per year to support preventative strategies. Now, he has a new ally: the British Dental Health Foundation.

The organization notes that half of 8-year-olds in the United Kingdom have visible signs of decay on their teeth, with a third of children starting school with visible signs of decay. In fact, tooth decay is the number one reason for hospitalization in children in the U.K., with 26,000 children in primary school admitted last year. Tooth extractions in children primarily caused by tooth decay costs the National Health Service around 30 million pounds per year.

“These figures are alarming but are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effect sugar is having on dental health,” said Dr. Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. “More regularly, we are hearing first-hand accounts from dental professionals about just how children are suffering due to sugar, and this is being played out in every dental surgery across the country.”

The organization notes that early tooth decay might not have any obvious symptoms, yet dental professionals may be able to spot cavities in their early stages during exams. It also encourages parents to schedule exams for their children regularly because small cavities are much easier to treat than advanced decay. Yet Carter also believes the food and drink industry in the United Kingdom shares a sizable portion of the blame.

“We now have the public’s attention in the battle against sugar more than ever before and need to use this platform to force through important changes,” Carter said. “We cannot trust the food and drink industry to make the necessary changes themselves. More radical action is required. We are supporting all of the measures that Mr. Oliver has set out in ‘Jamie’s Sugar Manifesto.’”

In addition to the 20-pence levy, Oliver and the British Dental Health Foundation endorse:

  • Legislation that enables the government to set legal guidelines on the amount of sugar in products for the food and drinks industry;
  • Penalties on food and drink companies that do not meet the targets established in that legislation;
  • Extending the regulations that ban junk food marketing on television before 9 p.m.;
  • More robust digital marketing regulations on junk food to cover all non-broadcast media;
  • Requiring “traffic light” labeling indicating high (red), medium (yellow) or low (green) amounts of sugar on all packaging;
  • Showing sugar content in teaspoons on the front of packaging.

“As we as these measures, we also support Mr. Oliver’s move to add a 10-pence child health levy on sugary sweetened drinks within his restaurants,” Carter said. “By lobbying other restaurants to adopt this small measure, we will be able to start a dialogue that will effect real change and lead to oral health benefits for generations to come.”