Children’s health would be better protected if money raised from the soft drinks levy was spent on local priorities such as playgrounds, activities and afterschool clubs to combat child obesity, councils say today to mark a year since its introduction.
In the 12 months since the levy on sugar-sweetened drinks came into force, producers are expected to have paid an estimated £250 million, money which should be used to help deliver vital public health schemes to improve our next generation’s life chances.
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says funding could go towards protecting and improving children’s oral health, providing early years play equipment and activities, while also encouraging healthier eating and exercise.
Currently, funding from the levy goes towards school sports and breakfast clubs. However councils, which are responsible for public health, know their communities best and are uniquely placed to work with local groups and health services such as sports clubs, volunteers and weight loss classes to keep children active.
A greater proportion of this levy should be going to councils to spend on their local children’s health priorities, in the face of public health funding reductions of £531 million in cash terms over five years. Instead of the levy sitting outside of the public health system, it should be part of a joined-up approach with schools to tackling obesity and physical activity.
Between 2012/13 and 2017/18 the proportion of Year 6 children in England who were obese rose from 18.9 per cent to 20.1 per cent. It has been rising since 2011.
Nearly nine out of 10 young children who have teeth removed in hospital is due to preventable tooth decay, which is both concerning and adds to current pressures on the NHS.
Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, said:
“In a year since the soft drinks industry levy was introduced, manufacturers have cut the amount of sugar in their products while hundreds of millions of pounds have been raised in revenue. It is vital that the funds raised so far are invested in the best possible way to ensure that our children get the greatest start in life.
“However in order to truly tackle our child obesity epidemic, councils need to be able to use this money to intervene earlier and do more to ensure that our children stay healthy, active and develop good eating habits, which they can continue into adulthood.
“This in turn will lead to less pressure on our already overstretched public services including the NHS, saving the country much more from obesity-related treatment in future.
“Councils are uniquely placed to tackle obesity, given their links to local health, community and voluntary services, as well as schools. This includes the costs of running the Government’s National Child Measurement Programme in schools, as well as programmes such as weight management services, exercise referral schemes and offering free or reduced-cost sport.
“Giving councils a say in deciding where the revenue from the soft drinks levy is spent will help lead to better, more innovative oral health education so that parents and children are supported to understand the impact of sugar on teeth and the importance of good oral hygiene.”