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Sugary drink obesity claims slammed by industry

By Mike Stones+

19-Feb-2016
Last updated on 19-Feb-2016 at 13:30 GMT2016-02-19T13:30:53Z

Taxing sugary drinks would cut obesity, according to a new, disputed report
Taxing sugary drinks would cut obesity, according to a new, disputed report

The soft drink industry has slammed claims that a 20% tax on sugary drinks would cut UK obesity rates by 5% within nine years – resulting in 3.7M fewer obese people.

Levying such a tax would also save the National Health Service (NHS) about £10M in healthcare and social care costs in 2025 alone, according to the report from Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum published today (February 19).

“The ripple effect of a small tax on sugary drinks is enormous,” said Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention.

‘We need to act now’

“These numbers make it clear why we need to act now before obesity becomes an even greater problem.”

But the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said the study contradicted evidence about the effectiveness of a tax.

“The hypothetical claims made in this modelling study run contrary to real-world evidence,” said BSDA director Gavin Partington.

“In fact, the soft drinks tax in Mexico has reduced average calorie intake by six calories per person, per day with no evidence that it has reduced levels of obesity.

“The most comprehensive study into tackling obesity, the McKinsey Global Institute 2014 report and Public Health England, found that a tax would be much less effective than reducing portion sizes and reformulating products.”

Partington added that the industry was already taking those steps and had cut calories by 7.5% since 2012 with plans to reduce a further 20% by 2020.

Soft drink claims

“The hypothetical claims made in this modelling study run contrary to real-world evidence.”

  •  Gavin Partington, BSDA

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was simplistic to suggest the complex problem of obesity could be solved with a tax.

“Modelling studies can make a useful contribution to the evidence base, but existing research must be borne in mind when conclusions, and indeed headlines, are drawn, an FDF spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“Current real-world evidence on the impact of additional taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks shows only a modest effect on short-term purchasing of these products. The study models a reduction in purchased calories from a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, and this reduction being sustained over time, which may not be reflective of actual behaviour.” 

‘Buy less or switch to a healthier choice’

But Cancer Research UK insisted: “Junk food, high in sugar and fat, is cheap, widely promoted and all too accessible. Research shows that the price of food influences what people buy so introducing a tax on sugary drinks provides an incentive to buy less or switch to a healthier choice.”

Adults and young children consume twice the maximum recommended amount of added sugar, it claimed. And 11 to 18 year olds eat and drink three times the recommended limit, with sugary drinks being their main source of added sugar.

Cancer Research UK urged the government to tax sugary drinks, ban junk food adverts on TV before the 9pm watershed, and introduce targets for reducing the amount of fat and sugar in food as part of a comprehensive strategy.

Read more about the new study here .

 

Does taxing food and drink curb consumption?

The BSDA’s view:

  • “No evidence that food taxes have an effect on obesity. In 2013, Denmark scrapped its fat tax because of its economic impact and abandoned plans for a tax on sugar
  • “Evidence from France shows that while sales of soft drinks initially fell after a tax was introduced in 2012 they have increased since.
  • “In Mexico the impact of a soft drinks tax saw a reduction of only 6.2 calories per day reduction – 0.2% of the daily diet
  • A similar tax in the UK would lead to a reduction of just 4 calories per person per day.”
  • Only four in 10 Britons think introducing a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks would be effective in tackling obesity, according to an independent poll of GB adults by Populus for the FDF
  • 78% say it will inevitably lead to taxes on other foods”

 

Cancer Research UK’s view

  • 20% tax on sugary drinks would cut UK obesity rates by 5% within nine years
  • The result would be 3.7M fewer obese people
  • The NHS could save about £10M in healthcare and social care costs in 2025 alone
  •  “Junk food, high in sugar and fat, is cheap, widely promoted and all too accessible.”
  • “Introducing a tax on sugary drinks provides an incentive to buy less or switch to a healthier choice.” 

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