U.K. Soda Tax Slashes Childrens’ Sugar Intake

U.K. kids’ intake of sugar from soda halved in the years following the annoucement of a tax on the sweet drinks, scientists have found.

Childrens’ overall daily intake of free sugars — those added to food and drink or present in fruit juice, syrup and honey — also fell by a 10% in the year after the tax began, research shows.

Free sugars are linked to numerous serious health problems from heart disease to Type 2 diabetes, so they’re a major target for public health policies. More than 50 countries have imposed taxes on sugary drinks to try and improve the health of their populations.

Announced in 2016 and introduced two years later, the U.K.’s ‘soft drinks industry levy’ imposed a tax on many drinks containing than 5g of sugar per 100ml. Policymakers hoped manufacturers would make their drinks less sugary to avoid being hit by the extra cost.

Scientists probed results from a national diet survey on more than 15,600 adults and children to estimate what impact the levy had on sugar intake.

They compared changes in sugar intake to changes in protein intake between 2011 to 2019, as the latter food group isn’t subject to similar tax, but will still become more expensive with inflation.

Adults’ intake of sugar from sodas fell by around a third from 2016 onwards, while kids’ intake fell roughly halved.

Daily intake of all free sugars dropped by 5g in children and 11g in adults in 2018 alone. Most of this reduction — 3g in kids and 5g in adults — was from sugary drinks alone. Protein intake, on the other hand, was stable.

The study adds to a body of research on the impact of sugar levies on public heath. A previous study showed the U.K.’s tax may have reduced tooth extractions caused by decay in children.

University of Cambridge researcher and lead study author Nina Rogers said, per The Guardian, that the results were “consistent with previous research which show a reduction in household purchasing of sugar from soft drinks one year after adoption of the levy.”

Nonethless, experts say the U.K. is still consuming too much sugar.

The World Health Organization recommends energy from free sugars make up no more than 5% of diets. That works out at roughly 30 g per day for adults, 24 g for 7–10 year olds and 19 g for 4–6 year olds.

In 2019, both adults and children were kids still consuming about 45 g of sugar a day.

Rogers suggested the country’s new government could build on the success of the levy by including more sugary drinks in the tax. Certain drinks, like fruit juices and alcoholic drinks, are exempt.

Other researchers recommended expanding taxes like this to more foods.

Public health nutrition lecturer Kawther Hashem at Queen Mary University of London, urged policymakers to “consider applying a similar levy to other discretionary products that are key contributors to sugar intake, such as chocolate confectionery, to shift diets towards a healthier direction.”

The U.K. government has already announced plans to tighten the sale of sugary energy drinks and reduce junk food ads.

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