By Charlotte Jarman, Children’s Health Fund

When food charity Sustain established the Children’s Health Fund a year ago with the help of Jamie Oliver, we had three aims.  Firstly, we wanted to raise awareness of the health problems associated with our over-consumption of the white stuff. Secondly, we wanted to raise money for projects which would have a positive impact on our children’s health, by encouraging restaurants to implement a 10p levy on the price of each sugar-sweetened soft drink that they sell. And finally, we wanted to call on the Government to take the bold step of introducing a national tax on sugary drinks, while showing that there is strong support for the idea amongst both businesses and members of the public.

Consumer response

Aim number one is a work in progress, with each new business that adopts the levy playing an important role in getting its customers to think about the issues (and perhaps consider healthier alternatives to sugary drinks).  The customer response so far has been positive. Louise Ludlam of Jamie’s Italian reports that there was a flurry of interest from customers when they first introduced the levy – immediately after Oliver’s documentary Jamie’s Sugar Rush was shown on Channel 4 – and since then, customers seem to have taken the levy in their stride. Leo Calabretta of Pizza 500 in Brighton, tells us that many of his customers (particularly parents) have been extremely supportive of the scheme. An independent evaluator is currently analysing the response in more detail and looking into whether there has been any effect on customers’ choice of beverage.

Where the money raised has been spent

In terms of aim number two, this summer we distributed £50,000 to 26 projects across 11 regions of the UK through our first funding round, the Water Fountain Fund – which collectively will help to improve access to drinking water for around 80,000 children.  One grant recipient, Court Lane Infant School in Portsmouth, will use the funding to replace its antiquated drinking water fountains and lower them to make them more accessible to the children. Special Olympics Sandwell, a project that offers sporting opportunities to young people with learning disabilities, will use its grant to provide its members with reusable drinking water bottles and run an education programme on the benefits of drinking water as opposed to sugary drinks.

The more businesses that implement the levy, the bigger the impact we can have on our children’s health.

Getting involved

Implementing the levy is simple. All you have to do is add 10p to the price of each soft drink containing sugar that you sell, and explain to customers why you are doing this – usually via a note on your menu, sometimes supported with additional publicity materials and social media activity. Then on a monthly or quarterly basis, you inform us how many drinks you have sold, and transfer the resulting funds (once VAT has been deducted) into the dedicated Children’s Health Fund account.

Soft Drinks Industry Levy

It could be argued that aim number three has been accomplished: we were delighted that the government committed to introducing a Soft Drinks Industry Levy in the most recent budget, and in August 2016 we were pleased to see that the levy still appears in what is otherwise a watered-down childhood obesity plan. However, it’s clear that we must not rest on our laurels as, not surprisingly, there is strong opposition to the levy from the soft drinks industry; the Food and Drink Federation has already cited the “economic fragility” created by Brexit as a reason for delaying its introduction.

Why do we believe that the introduction of the levy is so important? There’s no denying that childhood obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges we face globally, and the UK currently tops the European obesity league table. The soft drinks industry claims that “pointing the finger” at sugary drinks alone is unfair, and of course this measure alone will not solve the obesity crisis; there is no silver bullet.  However, along with many other public health organisations, we feel very strongly that it is a step in the right direction.

We will keep urging restaurants to adopt a voluntary sugary drinks levy, to keep people talking about the issues, and to continue to raise money for worthwhile projects to improve our children’s health.

Join the celebrations

Supporters and beneficiaries of the Children’s Health Fund will be gathering at a branch of Jamie’s Italian on 11th October to celebrate everything that the scheme has achieved over the course of its first year, and look ahead at what we hope to accomplish together. If you would like to join us, or want to find out more about supporting the Children’s Health Fund, contact Charlotte Jarman on charlotte@sustainweb.org or 020 7065 0902.