20% tax on sugary drinks could ease Britain’s obesity crisis

sugary drinksResearchers say that if a 20% tax was slapped onto all sugary drinks then this would help to bring down the total number of obese adults in the UK by an estimated 180,000.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers from Oxford and Reading argue that the 20% tax on Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Fanta and other sugar-sweetened drinks, would help to curb the worrying rise in sales of such drinks which they say is merely adding fuel to the fire of the nation’s obesity crisis.

The authors of the paper have spent time to calculate both the financial impact of introducing a 20% tax, and how much effect it could have in regards to trying to curtail the problem of obesity.

Dr Adam Briggs, lead study author from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, said their research has shown that taxing sugar-sweetened drinks “is a promising population measure”.

He commented: “Sugar-sweetened drinks are known to be bad for health and our research indicates that a 20% tax could result in a meaningful reduction in the number of obese adults in the UK. Such a tax is not going to solve obesity by itself, but we have shown it could be an effective public health measure and should be considered alongside other measures to tackle obesity in the UK.”

Dr Briggs and colleagues modelled the health effects of a 20% by using the information extracted from several separate surveys. These surveys had provided data on the trends of drink purchases, drinks consumption, and the prevalence of obesity throughout the UK.

They calculated that a 20% tax would equate to a 60p can of 330ml Coca-Cola now costing 72p, and help to cut the number of overweight adults in the UK by 0.9% (285,000 adults) and reduce the number of obese adults by 1.3% (180,000) adults. The tax would also result in roughly 40p being added to the cost of two-litre bottle.

The age group most effected would likely be those aged 16 to 29 the researchers say, as these typically consume a lot more sugary drinks in comparison to other age groups.

Because it is merely the over 30s who would be impacted by the introduction of the tax, this has led to some groups arguing that the tax would be misguided and simplistic, not having much of an impact on older people who could actually benefit most from losing weight.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, argued that soft drinks should not be blamed for Britain’s obesity problems.

He said: “There’s ample evidence to suggest that taxing soft drinks won’t curb obesity, not least because its causes are far more complex than this simplistic approach implies. Indeed, the latest official guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence points to the need to look at overall diet and lifestyle. Trying to blame one set of products is misguided, particularly when they comprise a mere 2% of calories in the average diet.”

In addition, Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, argued that the findings of the study were somewhat “naive”.

He said: “Most nutritionists agree it would be better to drink water than sugar-sweetened beverages. However, many consumers like sweet drinks and if they could not afford to buy sugary fizzy drinks they can always revert to drinking tea with added sugar as in the past. The cost of sugar-sweetened beverages is currently so low that any price increase would be so marginal that it would be unlikely to affect intake.”

However, the facts do not lie when it comes to fizzy drinks and the fact remains that a typical sugary drink still contains a shocking six to 15 teaspoons of sugary. Just one teaspoon of sugary works out at around 16 calories and 4g of sugar. On top of this, a regular consumption of the drinks has been linked to an increase in the risk of tooth decay and diabetes as well as obesity.

In fact, earlier this year doctors led calls for a tax on sugary drinks, in addition to other recommendations such as the number of fast food outlets close by to schools and colleges to be severely limited and a ban on junk food advertising before the watershed.

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