More Evidence That A Sugar Tax May Work

nutrition diet healthEvidence suggests that consumption of sugar sweetened soft drinks is a primary cause of weight gain and obesity. Reducing their consumption should therefore be a priority for those interested in their health. Those genuinely interested in losing weight and remaining healthy will have already considered and implemented this approach. Taxing the sugar in soft drinks is a way for governments to forces those who will not voluntarily remove sugar from their diet into doing so. Controversy exists as to the effectiveness of this approach, and a number of studies have evaluated outcomes, from countries that have already implemented sugar taxes. For example, one study investigated the results of a number of studies (a meta-analysis) and included data from studies in the United States, Mexico, Brazil and France. The results of the study showed that higher prices reduced demand for soft drinks, and at the same time increased demand for alternative drinks including milk, sugar-free soft drinks and fruit juice.

sugar tax

The effectiveness of a sugar tax comes down to whether it actually decreases sugar intake. If sugar intake falls, there is a possibility that it could reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity. If other factors come into play to maintain sugar intake at present levels, then there is little chance that it could have anything other that revenue raising properties. If those who decrease consumption of sugar sweetened soft drinks increase their consumption of fruit juice, total sugar intake could remain level. Fruit juice is currently excluded from the proposed United Kingdom sugar tax.

Therefore the data from a number of countries that have implemented sugar taxes suggests that the high price elasticity of sugar sweetened soft drinks can be overcome with a sugar tax and this decreases consumption. However, this does not necessarily mean that obesity rates will fall, as many other factors can come into play in this regard. However the same authors also analysed data from six studies performed in the United States, and these studies suggested that sugar taxes could be effective at reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Interestingly as sugar sweetened soft drink consumption declines, fruit juice consumption increases. As fruit juices can have a similar detrimental metabolic effect as sugar sweetened soft drinks, this may negate some or all of the beneficial effects. Overall the effectiveness of a sugar tax requires that sugar consumption falls. If this can be achieved then the prevalence of overweight and obesity should follow. However, the picture is complex and so predictions are difficult.

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Escobar, M. A. C., Veerman, J. L., Tollman, S. M. Bertram, M. Y. and Hofman, K. J. 2013. BMC Public Health. 13: 1072

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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