Jamie Oliver’s sugar levy trial fails to win over experts

By Noli Dinkovski contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sugar study: a 10p levy was added to sugar-sweetened beverages in 37 Jamie’s Italian restaurants
Sugar study: a 10p levy was added to sugar-sweetened beverages in 37 Jamie’s Italian restaurants

Related tags: Scientific method, United kingdom

Nutrition experts have reacted with scepticism to research that found a “significant” link between price and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) following a trial in a chain of restaurants owned by Jamie Oliver.

According to the research, a 10p levy on the price of SBBs sold in 37 Jamie’s Italian restaurants across the UK was associated with an 11% decline in sales of SSBs per customer 12 weeks after the levy was introduced.

After six months, a decline in sales of 9.3% per customer was observed.

The study was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with the University of Cambridge, and funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

First price rise evidence

Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, said the study provided the first evidence in the UK of the effects of a price rise on sales of sugar-sweetened beverages in a restaurant setting.

However, she cautioned that it was based on a “pragmatic interrupted time series”​ rather than a stronger research design, “so findings are indicative rather than conclusive”​.

Richard Tiffin, professor of applied economics and director of the Centre for Food Security at the University of Reading, said both the price increases involved and the changes in consumption were not sufficient to have a meaningful impact on obesity.

‘Those with the worst diets’

“Measures that are specifically targeted at those with the worst diets are likely to be more effective,”​ he explained.

Meanwhile, Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said while the study provided good statistical evidence, the publicity around its introduction meant it wasn’t possible to be sure that the fall in consumption of sugary drinks “was entirely, or even mainly”​, caused by the extra 10p.

The report authors said further research with a longer follow-up was required.

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