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​Dentists: Expansion of sugar tax a litmus test for government on prevention

The British Dental Association has backed recommendations set in the second part of the Food Strategy to expand the sugar tax to cover foods high in sugar and salt.

The plan, developed by ‘Food Tsar’ Henry Dimbleby, advocates a sugar and salt tax on unhealthy food, which would direct some of the revenues to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families. The move would build on the success of the sugar levy, which prompted a fall in sales of high-tier sugary drinks – those containing more than 8g of sugar per 100ml – of 44% in its first year.

Tooth decay has been the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children in the UK, with the burden hitting those in the most deprived communities the hardest. The strategy notes children living in the UK’s most deprived communities are 3 times more likely to have tooth decay at age 5.

The BDA expects these inequalities to widen as a result of the COVID pandemic. While dentist leaders have welcomed moves in the Health and Care Bill currently before parliament to aid the expansion of schemes such as water fluoridation, it says action needs to be part of a joined-up approach, addressing issues from access to services to food culture.

The BDA wants to see sustained government action to tackle diet-related disease like tooth decay as an integral part of ongoing work to confront obesity. It has also welcomed recommendations to expand eligibility for free school meals and extend the provision of programmes to tackle holiday hunger.

BDA Health and Science Chair Mick Armstrong said:

“If the government is serious about tackling preventable disease it must build on the ambition set out in this strategy. Over consumption of sugar causes both dental decay and obesity but dental disease is largely irreversible. That link should be made clear and more widely acknowledged.

“Ministers are making the right noises on prevention but need to take a joined-up approach. Willingness to build on the success of the sugar levy will be a litmus test.

“Every day dentists see how sugar fuels ill health and grotesque inequalities that are now set to widen. Ministers must show they are willing to act on root causes, and fix Britain’s failed food culture.”