Tackling the issue of obesity has become one of the main public health concerns of recent years. It’s estimated that in the UK, 38% of men and women will be obese by 2025. One of the primary ways that the Government is planning to address the issue is by placing a tax on soft drinks.
Some critics are saying that there is no evidence a soft drinks tax would work, as similar taxes in other countries have had little effect. Mexico introduced a soft drinks tax in 2014 and it led to less consumption- 6 calories less per day, per person- but the following year, the sales were up again.
In the UK, the proposal to tax soft drinks was based on data from 2012, so it doesn’t take into account the moves that companies have been making to reduce the levels of sugar in their products over the last few years. The Government’s plan, known as the Childhood Obesity Strategy, has been delayed over the summer whilst they make further decisions, taking another look at the evidence and investigating how they can change behaviour.
Levels of sugar consumption in the UK are falling, but obesity is still rising. Countries in Europe that have the lowest levels of obesity-5%- actually consume more sugar per head than the UK. The Defra Family Food Survey showed that regular consumption of soft drinks was down in the UK, as purchases fell by 32% over the course of 2010-2014. Low-calorie drinks accounted for a third of these purchases. Experts are now saying that the Government must look closer at what causes obesity and understand behaviour patterns.
Scientists from Cambridge University stated last month that leading sedentary lifestyles was as dangerous to public health as smoking, with this type of lifestyle causing more deaths than obesity alone.
According to public health experts, the soft drinks industry has made a shift towards changing in recent years by beginning to regulate itself. In the recent 2016 Annual Report, the British Soft Drinks Association said that almost 60% of soft drinks sold in the UK are low or no calories. The industry is also increasing the availability of smaller packs, removing sugar and increasing promotion of low-calorie alternatives- this combination has reduced consumers sugar intake by over 16% since 2012, even though sales have risen over 2%. Out of all the unhealthy food, the soft drinks industry is the only product type to set themselves a target to reduce calorie intake by 20% by the year 2020.
Back in 2012, soft drinks made up 10.3% of sugar intake and that figure has fallen to 8.3%. Studies from across the world have shown that smaller portion sizes and reformulating sugar would have a bigger effect on obesity levels than taxing soft drinks. The Government also expect that the soft drinks tax would be passed on entirely to consumers, with an estimation of an extra 48p per two-litre bottles of soft drink- this is particularly risky for small businesses, especially in a time where the economy is so uncertain following Brexit.
The Department of Health estimates that 70% of the budget for the NHS is spent on long-term health conditions, but only 4% of it is spent on prevention of such conditions. Recent studies by McKinsey show that taking personal responsibility and education are a critical part of attempting to reduce accountability.