UK sugar tax on soft drinks smashes target

September 25, 2019

The Soft Drink Industry Levy (SDIL), which came into effect in April 2018, has led to a sugar reduction in beverages of nearly a third, thoroughly beating the initial 20 percent target. This is according to the second-year report from Public Health England (PHE) that also shows that within the food sector, a reduction of just 2.9 percent was achieved. This highlights the efficacy of monetary incentives, with organizations including The Association of UK Dietitians (BDA) and Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign calling for the government to roll out wider mandatory guidelines. The amount of sugar purchased in soft drinks also decreased in all socio-economic groups, showing a consumer shift toward zero or lower sugar products. 

Overall, 30,133 metric tons of sugar were removed without reducing soft drink sales, resulting in around 37.5 billion fewer kilocalories sold in sugary drinks each year.

Another likely reason for the success of SDIL is the ease of reformulation in drinks. “In products such as cakes or chocolate, sugar interacts with other ingredients, most notably fats. Therefore recipe changes can be more complex, and take longer to adapt.” 

Building on the success
In light of the report, the Children’s Food Campaign is now calling for further action, including an extension of SDIL to include milk-based sugary drinks. “The exemption of milk-based soft drinks means there is a perverse situation in which milkshakes containing a lot more sugar than fizzy drinks are not taxed at all. The government has pledged to examine the evidence of progress in voluntary sugar reduction, and if it is not sufficient, to consider extending the levy,” explains Crowther. 

Gabriel adds that fat is a bigger contributor to calories in the diet than sugar. “Therefore it is essential that manufacturers are encouraged to reduce both in order to tackle the UK’s unhealthy eating habits and excessive calorie intake.”

“Sugar has been focused on at the expense of saturated fat and calories – and both need to be addressed. Gram for gram fat contributes more calories to food than sugar, and therefore, it is essential that manufacturers are encouraged to reduce both in order to reduce obesity. It is important to remember however that sugar consumption, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages, has a negative impact on dental health. Reducing sugar consumption reduces not only energy intake but also has a profound impact on oral health outcomes,” she continues. 

Additionally, the BDA hopes that “the government will consider whether a compulsory approach in other food and drink categories could drive much faster change. Reformulation is one of a number of ways that government needs to act to support consumers to make healthier food choices.”

“What we know is that SDIL is doing its job so far. It has removed millions of metric tons of sugar from soft drinks through reformulation and appears to be driving consumer purchasing shifts to healthier options. It is also raising an estimated £340 million (US$423 million) in levy income each year that should be being invested in children’s health and nutrition programs. However, sugar sales are still rising overall. Ultimately, we need healthy food to be more accessible, affordable and appealing than unhealthy food, and there’s still a long way to go to achieve that,” concludes Crowther.

Source NutritionInsight. 

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