Under 18s Most Likely to See Reductions in Obesity Levels Following Sugar Tax, Claims Study

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16 Dec 2016 --- People aged under 18 are the most likely to see reductions in obesity levels and other health benefits from the introduction of a sugar tax in the UK, according to a new study into the likely impact it will have on public health. The study, published in the Lancet Public Health Journal, scrutinized different ways that the beverage industry could respond to the proposed introduction of the sugar tax- such as reformulation to reduce sugar levels; or an increase in product price on supermarket shelves.

It also looked at the impact of the likely change to market share across the beverage industry following the introduction of the tax would be.

The tax is scheduled to be introduced in April 2018 in the UK but has met with a fierce backlash from the drinks industry.

The soft drinks industry argues that the introduction of a tax is unfair and that the industry is being unfairly singled out and that, furthermore, there is no evidence that a tax would reduce obesity levels.

The study found that if beverage companies respond to the tax by cutting sugar from its drinks, then obesity levels, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay would reduce, most noticeably in the under-18s, which tend to drink the most sugary drinks.

The study predicts that if beverage companies cut sugar content in the drinks that contain the most sugar by 30 percent and mid-sugar drinks by 15 percent, this could lead to 144,000 fewer individuals with obesity, 19,000 less cases of type 2 diabetes and 270,000 fewer cases of decaying teeth.

The study also suggests that if the tax is passed on to consumers, leading to a 20 percent hike in the prices of mid and high-sugar drinks, then it would result in 82,000 fewer cases of adults and children with obesity, 11,000 less cases of diabetes a year, and 149,000 less cases of decaying teeth. 

It found that the demographics most likely to benefit from reduced obesity levels from a price hike would be those under the age of 18 while those older than 65 would likely see the biggest overall falls in diabetes incidences.

The study concludes that “health gains could be maximised by substantial product reformation” but added that additional health benefits would be possible if prices are hiked or as a result of low-sugar products taking a bigger market share.

Professor Susan Jebb, co-author of the study, from the University of Oxford, said the tax on soft drinks alone would not remedy the obesity problem.

She said: “We need to consider how to take effective action to reduce other sources of sugar in children's diets, notably confectionery, which has so far been relatively overlooked.”

Gavin Partington, director general of The British Soft Drinks Association, said: “The problem with this modelling is that it is based on the flawed concept that obesity can simply be attributed to calorie or sugar intake per se and consumption of one product in particular, rather than overall lifestyle and diet.”

The BSDA points to the voluntary inroads being made by the industry to reduce sugar levels.

Partington added: “It seems odd to punish progress with a tax which risks jobs losses and higher prices for consumers when our efforts are clearly having an impact. Surely a review of this policy must now be undertaken.”

The sugar tax is proposed to be introduced under two bands-one for total sugar content above 5g per 100 milliliters and a second, higher band for the most sugary drinks with more than 8g per 100 milliliters. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility suggests they will be levied at 18p and 24p per liter.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Lucozade Energy are those that are likely to fall under the higher rate of tax.

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