Brian Monteith: Sugar-tax addicts are coming for our chocolate

Some kids eat more than five chocolate eggs. Picture: Getty Images
Some kids eat more than five chocolate eggs. Picture: Getty Images
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I hope you enjoyed your Easter eggs, be they of the chocolate or fowl variety. According to one study, our children will have eaten 16 times their normal intake of sugar over the Easter weekend, consuming an average of five eggs each.

While interesting, this is of course a useless piece of statistical information that will be used as propaganda to direct our lives. It may well be true that children ate an average of five chocolate eggs – I can still remember my childhood well enough to know I could certainly eat as many as three on a day, and five over a weekend would not be unknown. The “average” also means though that some kids eat fewer than five, others must eat more.

For the purposes of discouraging obesity amongst children, the real concern must be those kids that eat more than five. For if you reduce that group in size then the average comes down by itself. (Might I suggest it’s an easier target to reduce the gorging of more than five chocolate eggs than reduce consumption by those that are only eating two or three – to eating only one or none!)

Before we work ourselves up into a remonstrating, finger-pointing, do-gooding nanny, with the full force of the law behind us, I profer the question: “Is it important to reduce the consumption of Easter eggs by children?” Is this really what causes obesity?

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I rather doubt it. The statistic will just become part of the hectoring by public bodies about our general consumption of sugar that has led to the introduction of a sugar tax on soft drinks this Friday.

Easter Sunday is a feast day, like Christmas is a feast day. Feasting is by custom and practice a rarity that happens only occasionally; it is something we can look forward to – and often feel guilty about or suffer for afterwards. By definition feasting means consumption to excess, so every day of the week cannot be a feast.

Feasts are not solely religious, but practically all religions have their feasting – and fasting. What seems to have been lost in modern day Western life is the willingness to participate in the fasting that often precedes the feasting and balances it out.

Today’s equivalent of fasting is the dieting industry, but it has a parasitic relationship with over-indulgence. Without the feasting there would be less need for dieting, that’s why the diet ads on television appear as soon as you’ve eaten your Christmas turkey. Suddenly the countdown to having a svelte-like figure for the summer holidays begins, and the dieting products shift off the shelves (oh yes, simply cutting back on calories is not enough, we are told).

The real problem is our loss of self-restraint has come at the same time more of us – and especially our kids – have adopted sedentary lifestyles. Little exercise, driven everywhere, sitting watching screens.

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What this tells us is that the problem with the shift in our general population’s weight cannot be solved by interventions such as sugar taxes. The truth is they do not make people lighter and have been abandoned by most countries that have tried them. If they are not set high enough they make no impact on behaviour, but governments find they are so unpopular they daren’t make that move.

What is required is a change in attitudes, a change in our cultural behaviour.

A sugar tax will not achieve this, but it will bring in some revenue, and our government – always looking for ways of taking money from us – will become addicted to its low-level sugar tax far more than we are addicted collectively to our sweet tooth. Drinks are changing recipes to avoid the tax, so Irn-Bru will never taste the same again. It could be chocolate eggs next. We’d be better getting off our backsides.