evil sugar diabetes
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Sugar is highly addictive drug that create cravings, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.
Chief medical officer Sally Davies says government should introduce tax on sugar to combat growing menace of obesity

Sugar could be addictive and the government may need to introduce a tax on it in order to combat obesity, England's chief medical officer said on Tuesday.

Dame Sally Davies made the comments to the Commons health select committee a day ahead of an announcement from the World Health Organisation on new proposed limits for sugar consumption.

Davies told the committee she thought that "research will find sugar is addictive" - a position that has been advanced by some in the US on the back of research by addiction scientists working for the US government's National Institutes of Health. The possibility is strongly disputed by the food industry. "We may need to introduce a sugar tax," she added.

UK groups such as the Children's Food Campaign have been lobbying for a tax on sugar in food and drinks. Doctors also supported the call for a 20% tax on sugary drinks in a report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in February. The government, however, has appeared to be disinclined to look at food taxes as a way to tackle the unhealthy eating habits that lead to obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Davies said she did not believe that food and drink manufacturers would re-size their products - to offer smaller portions of food products containing high levels of sugar, salt and fat - without strong government action.

The food and drink industry is a partner with the government in the public health Responsibility Deal, which asks companies to make pledges on improving the health of their products. There have been pledges on salt and saturated fat reduction and on calorie cuts, but as yet sugar has not been explicitly part of the programme.

Sugar content is on the front of pack labelling that ministers have been promoting, and products with high levels should get a red traffic-light symbol, but the scheme is voluntary and not all companies are compliant.

Davies explained her concern to the committee: "We have normalised being overweight. I do fear that this generation of children will live [for fewer years] than my parents' generation."

Guidance from the World Health Organisation at present suggests that sugar should not make up more than 10% of anybody's calorie intake. It has been revising the guideline over more than a year, however, and will put out new guidance for consultation Wednesday.

The WHO commissioned two studies to inform the process: one on the damage that sugar does to teeth, and the other on its effect on obesity.

The latter study, by Jim Mann and colleagues from New Zealand, published in the British Medical Journal last year, found that sugar did not directly cause obesity. However, those who consumed a lot of it, particularly in sweetened drinks, tended to put on weight as it is calorie-dense and the drinks did not make people feel full, so they continued to eat.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "To help the nation to be healthier by eating fewer calories, including sugar, we are working with industry through the Responsibility Deal.

"This work has already delivered results but we have always been clear that if food and drink companies fail to act we will look at other options and are keeping all international evidence under review."