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News / March 12, 2021

UK consuming less sugar after tax imposed on soft drinks

by Gaby Bissett

Sugar tax

The UK as a whole is consuming less sugar following the implementation of the sugar tax, it has been revealed.

Research reveals that while the volume of drinks purchased did not appear to change, the sugar the beverages dropped by around 30g per household every week.

The UK soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) was introduced in April 2018. This helped to motivate manufacturers to reduce sugar in their products.

Under this legislation, drinks with more than 8g sugar per 100ml are taxed at 24p a litre. Similarly, drinks with more than 5g – but less than 8g– are taxed at 18p a litre. However, drinks with less than 5g are exempt.

Introduction of sugar tax

Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s MRC epidemiology unit looked at the changes in household purchases before and after the introduction of the SDIL.

They studied changes in the volume of, and amount of sugar in, household purchases of drinks in each levy tier. This includes exempt drinks categories (including alcoholic drinks) and confectionery.

They looked at levels two years before the SDIL announcement (March 2014) to one year after its introduction (March 2019).

Findings are based on around 31 million purchases by an average of more than 22,180 households. The data recorded all food and drink brought into the home – including those ordered online and delivered – on a weekly basis.

Benefit for public health

When all taxed and untaxed soft drinks were combined, the volume of drinks purchased stayed the same. However, sugar purchased in these drinks decreased by around 30g per household per week.

This is equivalent to almost 10% – similar to three fewer teaspoons per person per week.

The authors of the study, which was published in The BMJ, concluded that a sugar tax ‘might represent a benefit for public health without any commensurate harm to the soft drinks industry’.

For example, it reduces the sugar purchased and consumed while not affecting the total amount of soft drinks bought.