Health benefit of sugary drinks tax is ‘a strong claim’, says academic

By Joyeeta Basu contact

- Last updated on GMT

The proposal was criticised for not stating clearly if the tax would apply to products that are blends
The proposal was criticised for not stating clearly if the tax would apply to products that are blends

Related tags: Sugary drinks, Nutrition, Sugar

The Children’s Food Campaign claims a 20p tax on sugary drinks could have major positive impact on health but academics and industry say evidence is lacking.

The Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) has expanded its London-based interactive web tool nationwide to allow people across the UK to view what impact a sugar duty in their area would have on health.  (http://www.childrenshealthfund.org/​).

The campaign has called for a 20p per litre duty on sugary drinks. Budget from it could save the NHS and public health budgets £300m (€424) over 20 years with the proceeds going towards child health, it claims.

It estimates how a 5% to 30% duty on sugary drinks could reduce the average energy consumption of each person per day in a particular area, thus giving an approximate number of fewer cases of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other diseases for the area.

London Metropolitan University emeritus professor of nutrition policy J T Winkler however, said the proposal needed more.

It is a strong claim,”​ he said, adding that he had not yet seen the full research paper, so was unable to comment on its accuracy.

The CFC said that their call for the levy and impact on health is based on research that was published in association with the University of Liverpool academic Brendan Collins and Food Active.

Sugar-sweetener blends

The proposed tax however, is pragmatic on other levels said Professor Winkler, as the CFC has called for a tax only on sugary drinks and not sugar-free, as a healthier option. But a vast majority of drinks are a blend of both, which complicates the issue, he said.

What isn’t clear from the proposal is would the tax apply to those products that are blends​?”

He added that the soft drinks industry could gain from a sugary drinks tax, explaining that since sweeteners are commonly cheaper than sugars, sugar-free drinks would be more profitable to produce as margins would be higher.  And adding a tax on only sugared drinks would create a price difference and a natural shift towards sugar-free drinks.

The implications of tax is strangely positive​,” he said.

Debate carries on

On the other hand, other academics largely agreed that the tax was a logical measure which could change the purchasing habits of consumers, as the duty on cigarettes has.

“Adding 20p per litre onto the price of sugary drinks would encourage people to consume less and lead to improvements in quality of life​,” saidRobin Ireland, director of Food Active. “Just as extra taxes on cigarettes have helped to change purchasing habits and reduce smoking.​”

Children’s Food Campaign co-ordinator Malcolm Clark added that that the current taxes on foods was not enough to help consumers make healthier choices.” A 20p per litre sugary drinks duty would save lives and money across England, and ease the pressure on NHS services locally. It is a logical, proportionate and effective measure.​”

He suggested setting up a Children’s Health Fund with the revenue to improve children’s health, especially amongst poverty and low income families.

Drinks industry disagrees

British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington said the levy would actually “adversely impact the poorest in society while doing nothing to curb obesity​”. “This is a flawed model based on misleading figures created by campaigners in support of their cause.”

The association added that it was down to individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles to beat obesity and pointed to evidence from France, where after an initial drop since a tax was introduced in 2012, sales have increased again.

An FDF spokesperson said there was no evidence of such taxes proving efficient in other countries. “Education and practical support which empowers consumers to make healthier choices holds more long-term value than regressive tools which vilify individual nutrients, foods or drinks which can in themselves fit within a healthy, balanced diet when consumed in moderation,​” it said in a statement.

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