It is certainly ground-breaking news that the government is imposing a levy on soft drinks but will this make a difference to the current obesity crisis in the UK? Let’s cut to the chase; will an 8 pence rise in price on a sugary drink stop a purchase being made? Will the UK reduce their consumption of sugary drinks because of this tiny cost?
Let’s first consider what this levy involves. Well, there will be a tax on soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml (so Sprite and Fanta, for example, will see a rise in cost, but you’re OK with Tango Orange and Lilt as they fall below this!) There's a higher rate for those with more than 8g per 100ml (Dr. Pepper lovers need to save up). This amounts to about 6p or 8p to a standard 330ml can, therefore a standard can of Coca-Cola - costing around 70 pence – would have an 8 pence tax placed on it, while a can of Sprite would have an additional levy of 6 pence when the sugar tax is introduced in 2018.
Costs aside, this is a great indication that finally the link between the consumption of high levels of sugar and chronic disease is being taken seriously. Promising sounds are being made, such as Osbourne’s declaration, “Doing the right thing for the next generation is what this government and this Budget is about.” The unavoidable fact is that as a nation we consume too much sugar. The UK got through 14.8 billion litres of soft drinks last year, or 232.9 litres each!
Wonderfully, the estimated £520m raised will be put towards boosting primary school sports.
But will the sugar tax actually work? When considering data from other countries, the likelihood of a reasonable impact is good. Comparable taxes have worked in five other countries, with a potential twenty five percent reduction of fizzy drink consumption. For example, Mexico, which has one of the world's worst weight problems (a third of adults obese), introduced a 10 per cent sugar tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in 2014. A paper published in the BMJ in January indicates that sales of fizzy drinks had fallen by 12 per cent in the first year. Another example is Hungary where the introduction of a tax on companies has led to a 40 per cent reduction in levels of sugar products.
Regardless of whether this single change can provoke results the new tax is, in the words of Jamie Oliver, ‘symbolic’. It’s a sign that the government can be brave and make changes designed to halt the consistent over-consumption of sugar which is so condoned in our 21st century society. Finally the government is making a stand. It is not acceptable for major companies to fuel our taste buds with this destructive substance in order to line their pockets. Any move in the right direction must be celebrated as a worthy push forward in the fight against obesity.