Will Brits Give Up Soda After Jamie Oliver’s Rotten Teeth–Pulling Stunt?

The chef didn’t hold back in his latest documentary, ‘Sugar Rush.’
Sep 4, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

If statistics about obesity and diabetes don’t get U.K. residents to cut back on soda and other sweetened drinks, a clip from Jamie Oliver’s new documentary, Sugar Rush, might do the trick. The hour-long program aired on BBC Channel 4 on Thursday night as part of the chef’s latest crusade to raise awareness of the role the sweet stuff is playing in the global health crisis.

As seen in the clip above, Oliver heads to Saint George’s Hospital in London, where he watches a six-year-old named Mario, who has an affinity for drinking soda, get six teeth pulled. The “completely avoidable” situation, as Oliver puts it, is common in the U.K. In July, health officials in Britain warned that tooth decay in children had become a crisis, with 26,000 five- to nine-year-olds being admitted annually because of rotting teeth.

“We need to help these guys [doctors] do their job and focus on the things that really matter, not pulling out bloody teeth because there’s too much sugary shit in the environment. I definitely feel fired up, definitely up for a bit of a fight,” Oliver told The Guardian.

But Oliver’s not just focusing on improving dental health. In concert with the airing of Sugar Rush, the chef has launched a petition asking for a soda tax to be enacted in the U.K.

“Experts believe a tax of just 7p per regular-sized can of soft drink with added sugar could generate £1 billion per year. We believe this crucial revenue should be ring-fenced to support much needed preventative strategies in the NHS and schools around childhood obesity and diet-related disease,” reads the petition.

The petition cites research that shows sodas “with added sugar are the largest single source of sugar in the diets of U.K. schoolchildren and teenagers.”

The social media reaction from Coca-Cola Great Britain was priceless:

However, advocating its lack of real sugar was popular with the company prior to Sugar Rush’s debut. In a blog post last week, Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland, wrote, “While most people know that Coca-Cola has sugar in it, and that’s not something we hide, I was really surprised to learn that 5 out 10 consumers didn’t realise Coca-Cola Zero contained no sugar or calories—it was a similar story for Diet Coke. It signalled to me that we needed to do more to make everyone aware of the choice we offer.” Of course, studies have also shown that drinking diet soda leads to obesity because it alters gut bacteria.

Meanwhile, in obesity-plagued Mexico, which guzzles more soda than any other country, the government enacted a soda tax in 2014. As a result, consumption of the fizzy drinks has dropped by as much as 12 percent. Oliver’s walking the talk too: In July he added a 10p surcharge on soda purchases at his 41 restaurants across the British Isles.

Only 100,000 signatures on a petition are needed to spark a debate in the British parliament, and more than 88,000 people have signed Oliver’s—so it looks like U.K. politicians will soon get to argue over the root cause of rotting teeth in kids.