Soft drinks industry levy estimated to have significant health benefits, say researchers

The UK soft drinks industry levy, due to be introduced in April 2018, is estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children, according to the first study to estimate its health impact, published in The Lancet Public Health.

The proposed levy relates to the sugar content of drinks: no tax on diet and low sugar drinks; a low tax on mid-sugar drinks (5-8g of sugar per 100ml); and a high tax on high-sugar drinks (over 8g of sugar per 100ml).

In the study, researchers modelled three ways that the soft drinks industry may respond to the levy: reformulating drinks to reduce sugar content, passing some of the levy to consumers by raising the price of sugary drinks, and using marketing to encourage consumers to switch to lower sugar drinks. For each response they identified a realistic better and worse case scenario for health, by estimating the likely impact on rates of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

The study finds that an industry response that focuses on reducing sugar content is likely to have the greatest impact on health, with additional benefits if industry increases the price of high and mid-sugar drinks, or can successfully use marketing to persuade consumers to switch to low sugar drinks.

In response to the study, Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

“This research into the likely effectiveness of a sugar Levy is very encouraging. The authors are to be commended for conducting an objective analysis. Their conclusions provide a powerful steer to industry to reduce the sugar content of soft drinks, and also increase the price of high and mid-sugar drinks, and persuade consumers to switch to low sugar drinks.

“Children stand to benefit the most, so this study is a clarion call to industry to fulfil their moral obligations to promote child wellbeing. We also reiterate the importance of evaluating the true impact of the sugar tax, once it is introduced, so that the UK can provide much needed evidence to other countries that are considering emulating this potentially powerful public health intervention.”