Sugar tax could bring health benefits, but won’t defuse ‘obesity time bomb’
Release Date 16 December 2016
The UK soft drinks industry levy, due to be introduced in April 2018, could have significant health benefits, especially among children, according to new research.
University of Reading researchers co-authored the study, published in the journal Lancet Public Health.
They found that the greatest health benefits would be made as soft drinks makers reduce sugar content in their drinks. Increases in the price of high and mid-sugar drinks, and marketing to persuade consumers to switch to low sugar drinks, would also lead to public health benefits, the researchers found.
The study estimates that a reduction of 30% in the sugar content of all high-sugar drinks – a step already implemented by some manufacturers – and a 15% reduction in mid-sugar drinks could lead to 144,000 fewer UK adults and children with obesity, 19,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes per year, and 269,000 fewer teeth suffering from decay annually.
Co-author of the study, Professor Richard Tiffin, Director of Science at the Centre for Agrimetrics, University of Reading, said:
“Our study shows a modest but significant impact on health resulting from the imposition of the levy.
“Childhood obesity is a ticking time bomb and we must now turn our attention to other measures that will bring about the step change in diet that is necessary to truly tackle this issue. We need a much better understanding of the diverse and complex reasons people choose a poor diet.”
The proposed levy relates to the sugar content of drinks as follows:
- no tax on diet and low sugar drinks;
- low tax on mid-sugar drinks (5-8g of sugar per 100ml);
- high tax on high-sugar drinks (over 8g of sugar per 100ml).
Passing on half of the cost of the levy to consumers, leading to an increase in the price of high and mid-sugar drinks of up to 20%, was estimated to reduce the number of adults and children with obesity by 81,600, result in 10,800 fewer cases of diabetes and 149,000 fewer decaying teeth per year.
Children are likely to have the biggest health benefits from the changes. But the study shows how the health benefits of the tax are not guaranteed.
The research shows that the health benefits could be reduced if the soft drinks industry responds by increasing the price across their drinks range – with higher prices as well on zero sugar/diet drinks, bottled water, and fruit juice – or if marketing campaigns led consumers to switch from low to mid-sugar drinks.
Lead author of the study, Dr Adam Briggs, University of Oxford, UK, said: “Our study provides the first estimates of the likely health impact of the UK soft drinks levy.
“The good news is that our study suggests that all of the most likely industry responses to the tax including reducing sugar content of soft drinks, raising prices of high-sugar drinks and increasing the market share of low-sugar drinks have the potential to improve health by reducing rates of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
“The extent of the health benefits of the tax will depend on industry’s response. We must therefore be vigilant to ensure the food industry acts to remove sugar from soft drinks, and that where the tax is passed on to consumers it increases the price of targeted products only - drinks with high levels of sugar.”
Link to article:
The University of Reading has conducted extensive research on the impacts of sugar tax:
- Simulating the impact on health of internalising the cost of carbon in food prices combined with a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages - http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-016-2723-8
- The distributional consequences of a fiscal food policy: evidence from the UK – http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbu027
- The Effects of A Soft Drink Tax in the UK - http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/hec.3046
Professor Richard Tiffin has written comment pieces on previous proposals in the Daily Telegraph and the Huffington Post. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10929096/Britain-needs-action-on-obesity-but-the-evidence-for-sugar-tax-is-thin.html) and the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/professor-richard-tiffin/soft-drink-tax_b_4191154.html