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Diabetes Prevention (Soft Drinks)

Volume 543: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a programme of research into diabetes prevention; to require manufacturers of soft drinks to reduce the sugar content of soft drinks by 4 per cent; to make provision for a mechanism through which manufacturers of soft drinks are required through reinvestment of part of their profits to support the research programme from 2012; and for connected purposes.

At the very outset, I need to declare my interest: I am a type 2 diabetic. My chance diagnosis made me aware for the first time of the devastating costs of diabetes to the United Kingdom, both human and financial, yet we are not powerless in the face of type 2 diabetes. We know how it is caused and how to prevent it. The link between obesity and type 2 diabetes is firmly established, and we can prevent it with the right diet and exercise. With decisive action, we can stop the problem increasing at such an alarming rate.

There are 2.8 million people with diabetes in the United Kingdom. It has complications that include amputations, blindness, heart problems and strokes. The number of obese adults is forecast to rise by 73% in the UK over the next 20 years, by which time more than 10% of the population will have diabetes. Last year, 24,000 people with diabetes died early from causes that could have been prevented.

Diabetes costs the NHS £9 billion per year, which is £1 million an hour. It accounts for 10% of spending for the entire NHS budget. The NHS is expected to make savings of £20 billion by 2015; diabetes patient numbers are set to double by as early as 2015; and 80% of type 2 diabetes is preventable with the right diet and exercise. Therefore, with successful lifestyle changes, the NHS could save up to £720,000 per hour.

Academic research tells us that 90% of weight loss is achieved by cutting calories. Researchers at Glasgow university, led by Naveed Sattar, the professor of metabolic medicine, only yesterday revealed that nearly a quarter of those they questioned did not take into consideration their liquid sugar or calorie intake when controlling their diet. The average person in the UK consumes 450 calories per day through non-alcoholic liquid intake. That is the equivalent of nearly a quarter of recommended daily calories for a woman and a fifth for a man.

A can of Coca-Cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar, which is 39% of a person’s recommended daily allowance. Certain brands of pomegranate juice contain as much as 22 teaspoonfuls of sugar. Consumption of soft drinks is increasing substantially every year: it was up by 5.8% in 2010, when 14.5 billion litres of soft drinks were consumed in the UK.

Most concerning is that consumption is increasing fastest among the young, paving the way for our future generations of diabetics. Advertising for sugary drinks is explicitly targeted at young people. YouTube has 21 channels run by fizzy drinks companies. The Children’s Food Trust found that 72% of parents had bought fast food or other unhealthy products as a result of hard lobbying—some may say pestering—by their children. We all know how persuasive our children can be, but 31% of UK children are now classified as overweight. To save them from the diabetes epidemic, we must act now on obesity.

The irony is that while a patient with diabetes complications lies dying in a hospital bed, just outside the ward their relatives go to vending machines for fizzy pop and junk food. It is a national scandal that schools and hospitals, which should promote healthy lifestyles, have high-sugar drinks for sale. I urge colleagues to go back to their constituencies this weekend and ask their local schools what types of drinks are stocked in their vending machines. Every school and hospital in the country should declare itself an unhealthy food and drink free zone.

Perhaps we should follow suit in Parliament. Even here, in the Tea Room, such drinks are readily available, along with crisps and all manner of fattening snacks. When hon. Members go to the counter to pay, they must wade through baskets laden with chocolates for sale.

The Government should go further and they need to legislate. We have seen that the voluntary targets set by the Food Standards Agency to reduce sugar content by 2012 have not been met. Although I welcome the commitment of a number of companies to the Government’s voluntary food and responsibility deal, I believe that we need firmer action. This weekend, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges described the Government’s approach as “inherently flawed” in trusting the industry to cut calories voluntarily. These voluntary deals fail to recognise that we are dealing with a health emergency. Diabetes and obesity are at crisis levels.

We need to ensure not only that action takes place but that it takes place fast. Over the past decade, the Government have spent £2 billion tackling obesity levels, but levels have failed to fall. If current trends continue, 60% of men and 50% of women in our country will be clinically obese by 2050. Many of them will then develop diabetes, but the NHS simply cannot afford that, which is why we should put in place a statutory duty on drinks companies to reduce their products’ sugar content.

Government action on Government terms, not the industry’s, would send a strong and unequivocal signal about the need to moderate sugar and fat consumption. Government measures to reduce smoking have shown that intervention on public health issues works. Heart attack deaths have fallen by 50% in eight years. It is estimated that diet-related diseases are responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide, dwarfing the 5 million to 8 million smoking-related deaths. There is therefore a compelling case for action.

Intervention is not unprecedented. In October last year, Denmark, which is hosting the first EU diabetes conference next week—I am glad that the Minister with responsibility for diabetes, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), will be attending the conference and speaking on behalf of the Government—introduced a “fat tax”, and in December France’s Constitutional Council approved a “soda tax”. Hungary has taken similar action. These measures make people think twice before they reach for the litre of coke or bucket of fries.

Research into prevention can dramatically cut the costs. Last year, Newcastle university found that, with the right type of diet, type 2 diabetes can be reversed. The revenue of some food and drink companies is bigger than the gross domestic product of more than 100 countries. PepsiCo made about £10 billion in 2011. So the companies can afford to make this change.

The Bill would help to save millions of lives and billions of pounds. It is only a first step in the action we need to take to tackle the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes. But it is an important one. We cannot afford to wait until it is convenient for the industry to effect change. We need to show the people of Britain that Parliament is willing to tackle the problem head on. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Keith Vaz, Mr Aidan Burley, Jonathan Edwards, Derek Twigg, Ian Paisley, John Hemming, Jim Shannon, Rosie Cooper, Phil Wilson, Mr Mike Hancock and David Morris present the Bill.

Keith Vaz accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April, and to be printed (Bill 329).