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21mar time to tax sugary drinks1 hero
25 March 2021

Time to tax sugary drinks?

Study finds UK sugar tax is working.

In March, a study published in the British Medical Journal found the UK’s soft drinks industry levy (sugar tax) is hitting the sweet spot. The levy, introduced in 2018, taxes sugary drinks based on their sugar content – the higher the sugar levels, the higher the levy.

The study looked at the purchasing habits of more than 22,000 households from 2014 to 2019. It found that despite no overall change in the volume of soft drinks purchased, there was a reduction in the amount of sugar in the drinks. It concluded the levy might benefit public health without harming the industry’s bottom line.

Many public health groups here – including Health Coalition Aotearoa, the New Zealand Medical Association and the New Zealand Dental Association – are campaigning for a sugary drinks tax to protect child health and prevent obesity.

Last year, Health Coalition Aotearoa’s Food Policy Expert Panel published a systematic review in the New Zealand Medical Journal looking at the impact of food taxes and subsidies to protect health. The review concluded these interventions delivered health benefits.

Study co-author Dr Lisa Te Morenga said the government should consider introducing a UK-style levy. “An industry levy also generates significant revenue, which could be allocated to programmes to improve children’s health, such as funding pre-school education and providing healthy school lunches,” Dr Te Morenga said.

The World Health Organization also recommends a sugar tax. It states people who consume sugary drinks every day, have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes than those who rarely consume them. More than 40 countries tax sugary drinks, including the UK, Mexico, France and some Pacific Island countries.

In our recent survey, 51 percent of consumers supported a sugar tax on drinks to make these products less attractive and reduce the amount of sugar we consume. Twenty-one percent were undecided while 23 percent were opposed.

Why target sugary drinks?

Sugary drinks are the main source of sugars consumed by Kiwi children and young people. They’re associated with tooth decay, weight gain and obesity. Studies have shown if you shift from a kilojoule-free drink like water to a kilojoule-laden soft drink, you don’t adjust your diet to take account of the extra kilojoules.

There’s also evidence that the sugar in drinks is more harmful than sugar in solid food.

In 2019, a New Zealand study published in the Obesity journal concluded consuming liquid sugars increased the risk of metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes – compared with sugar from solid foods.

Do you support a tax on sugary drinks to make these products less attractive and help reduce the amount of sugar we consume?

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