Britain, last week, joined France, Norway and Mexico in rolling out a sugar tax on soft drinks in an attempt to tackle obesity and tooth decay in children, says a SBS report. Drinks containing five grammes of sugar per 100 ml will face a lower rate of 18p per litre, whereas those with more than eight grammes per 100 ml will face a rate of 24p per litre.
Top-selling brands such as Fanta, Ribena and Lucozade have already cut the sugar content of their products to avoid the tax, but Coca-Cola and Pepsi will both stick with the same recipes, which both contain more than 10 grammes per 100 ml.
“Our teenagers consume nearly a bathtub of sugary drinks each year on average, fuelling a worrying obesity trend,” said Public Health Minister Steve Brine. “The levy is a ground-breaking policy that will help to reduce sugar intake.”
The report says the government hopes the tax will raise £240m ($441m) per year.
Former finance minister George Osborne, who unveiled the tax policy when in office, believes milkshakes with large quantities of sugar may be targeted next. “I suspect the sugar tax will start to be extended to things like milk products, which I was nervous of going into in the first instance because I wanted to establish the case for a sugar tax,” he is quoted in the report as saying.
But, says a BBC News report, the jury is still out as to whether this tax will work. University of Bedfordshire nutrition expert Dr Daniel Bailey said that while the levy is a “positive step” in tackling obesity and had led to a “notable” reaction by the industry, the response by consumers is uncertain.
“The increase in tax placed on soft drinks will make products more expensive, but will this actually discourage people from buying them? We could just end up with consumers buying the same amount but paying more.”
The report says polling suggests this may be the case for many people. Research by Mintel found just under half of Britons say taxing unhealthy products would encourage them to cut back. By comparison easier-to-understand nutritional information would alter the purchasing habits of three-quarters of people, the survey of 2,000 people showed. Mintel’s associate director of food and drink Emma Clifford said it suggested “carrot” rather than “stick” may be a better approach.
The report says all age groups are consuming too much sugar, with teenagers the worst offenders. They get a quarter of their sugar intake from soft drinks.
Public Health England also hopes it will improve the oral health of children. To coincide with the introduction of the levy, the agency released figures showing a child in England has a tooth removed in hospital every 10 minutes due to preventable decay. PHE’s Dr Sandra White said: “It’s upsetting to see so many children admitted to hospital with tooth decay.” She is urging families to skip soft drinks altogether and to consume water and lower-fat milks.
The report says Mexico introduced a tax on sugary drinks on 1 January 2014, which operates in a similar way to the UK’s. By the end of its first full year, Mexicans were consuming 12% fewer sugary beverages than in the year leading up to the tax’s introduction. The biggest reductions were among the poorest households.
Researchers also looked at what happened to other drinks and found there was an increase in sales of drinks that did not come under the tax. This was mainly driven by a rise in popularity of bottled water.
The report says there is no evidence yet that this has led to a reduction in obesity – but it may well still be too soon to tell what the longer-term effects will be on the population’s weight.