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expert reaction to study looking at the sugar levels in UK soft drinks following government levy

Research, published in PLoS Medicine, reports that the sugar levels in UK soft drinks have lowered since the government levy.

 

Prof Tom Sanders, Professor emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics, King’s College London (KCL), said:

“While this research provides evidence that the levy has resulted in food industry lowering the sugar content of soft drinks, this research does not show that total added sugar in the UK diet has fallen in the UK diet. Sweets, cakes and biscuits are important sources of added sugar and there is a trend for increased consumption of these food especially in those on low incomes. Furthermore, previous research with low calorie sweetened drinks shows that consumer compensate for the reduced calorie intake by increasing energy intake from other sources. It is also worth noting that only one third of the cost of the levy was passed on to consumers for high sugar drinks.”

 

Prof Amelia Lake, Professor in Public Health Nutrition, Teesside University, said:

“In an attempt to curb rates of obesity, childhood obesity and reduce rates of type 2 diabetes, the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) was introduced in April 2018 in the UK. This levy was announced in 2016 giving manufactures two years to prepare for the start of the levy. This levy was to incentivise the industry to reformulate their sugar sweetened beverage products.

“This is an important, well-designed, thorough study which has measured the impact of this levy on the drinks that are available to consumers to buy.

“The researchers have observed over 200,000 soft drinks available from UK supermarket websites between 09/2015 and 02/2019. They looked at the proportion of drinks that had sugar levels higher than 5g per 100ml, they looked at prices and the size which drinks were sold. Additionally, they explored the number of different drinks available to purchase. They compared these findings to what would have happened if the levy had not been introduced.

“They found changes to the sugar levels in the drinks. There was a drop in the percentage of drinks with over 5g per 100ml from 49% to 15%. There was insignificant change in size of products or the number of products available to customers.

“The interesting findings from this research is that the levy did have an impact on the soft drink industry. There was a reduction in the higher sugar drinks.

“The broader implications are that using a policy like this can have a huge impact on the foods we purchase, much stronger than voluntary schemes. The range of drinks that this levy applies to could be broadened and the scope of the levy broadened to include a wider range of foods.”

 

Dr Max Davie, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Officer for Health Improvement, said:

“The soft drinks levy is a success story and shows that government can make a significant difference when the food and drinks industry is pushed to help people make healthier choices.

“This research highlights the limits of self-regulation – we agree. While there are pockets of progress, the success of the levy shows that when we compel industry to act it has clear and direct impact for consumers, young people and children. We want to see the levy extended to milk based drinks and fruit juices.

“One in three children are overweight or obese by age 11 and the food industry has a major role to play in helping us turn this around. This really matters and obesity is a significant public health challenge. We need to get away from blaming people – it’s tough for people to make healthy choices when they’re swamped with high sugar options.”

 

Impact of the announcement and implementation of the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy on sugar content, price, product size and number of available soft drinks in the UK, 2015-19: a controlled interrupted time series analysis’ by Scarborough et al. was published in PLoS Medicine at 19:00 UK time on Tuesday 11th February. 

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003025.

 

Declared interests

None received. 

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