The National Health Service in the United Kingdom is planning to impose a sugar tax in hospitals – yet another move to curb the so-called “national sugar high” besetting people’s diet and health.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens confirmed the plan and urged ministers to take radical steps against obesity, including pushing food companies to remove added sugar from their products.

In this new development, hospitals in England will begin to charge more for high-sugar snacks and drinks in their cafés and vending machines. This unprecedented move will make the NHS the first agency to create a sugar tax.

Stevens harped on the NHS’s responsibility in looking after patients’ health and drawing attention to “wider changes” to improve overall wellness in the country.

“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar-added foods across the NHS which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years over a rolling basis,” Stevens said in an interview.

The sugar tax – expected to earn £20 million to £40 million ($ 28.5 million to $57 million) in annual proceeds and will be channeled toward improving the health of its 1.3 million workers – aims to become a strong system in place or to fully abolish added sugar in hospitals by year 2020.

Stevens supported different measures that Public Health England recently proposed to reduce sugar consumption, which the service believes is a great contributor to bad diet – the cause of 40 percent of lifestyle-related avoidable diseases.

These proposals include a new levy on products with excessive amounts of sugar. The levy remains undecided on, despite many groups suggesting to set it at 20 percent.

In October, however, Prime Minister David Cameron shot down a national sugar tax, reportedly believing there were “more effective ways of tackling” the obesity matter.

In the UK, two-thirds of adults are overweight, and the NHS said it is struggling to address the health issues associated with it, including diabetes and heart disease.

The World Health Organization echoed that overweight and obese children are more likely to develop serious health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, liver disease and respiratory conditions. Childhood obesity, WHO warned, can lead to obesity, disability and premature death in adulthood.

WHO recommends reducing intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy intake in both children and adults. The agency even endorses a further reduction to below 5 percent.

Photo: Rex Sorgatz | Flickr

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