If you nip into your local shop today, you might notice that a can of pop costs you a few more pennies than it used to. That’s because, from today, the government is introducing a tax on sugary drinks, in the hope of reducing obesity levels and diseases linked to excessive sugar consumption. The idea behind the sugar tax is that the higher prices will be enough to put shoppers off buying sugary drinks and persuade them to make healthier choices.
Our Healthy Food Guide nutrition editor, Amanda Ursell, believes that the tax is an encouraging step, but is unsure whether the long-term answer to public health will be quite so simple. ‘The prospect of the sugar tax led to many companies significantly lowering the sugar levels in their soft drinks over the past 18 months, which is one positive thing to have come from the tax already,’ she says.
‘Now it has launched, it will be interesting to see whether the increased prices on high sugar drinks that remain on the shelves will affect sales, or whether people will pay the extra cost. It will be some years before we know whether this tax has a positive impact on obesity levels in the UK, but there are obviously strong hopes that it will.’
To help you make healthy and savvy choices, we’ve rounded up 10 things you need to know about the new sugar tax.
1. It could free up our hospitals
Last year, the UK was revealed as that fattest country in Western Europe. Excessive sugar consumption has also been linked diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. If we can reduce the amount of sugar we eat as a nation, we can hope to reduce pressure on the NHS.
2. More sugar = more tax
Shoppers will have to pay an extra 18p per litre for drinks that contain 5g sugar or more per 100ml, while drinks containing 8g sugar or more will increase in price by 24p per litre.
3. It’s backed by Jamie Oliver
The celebrity chef has been campaigning for the sugar tax for the past few years. He spoke about the negative impact of sugary energy drinks on children’s health in our February 2018 issue.
4. Less sugar can mean more chemicals
The introduction of a tax on high-sugar drinks has led some companies to reformulate their products. In order to achieve the same sweet taste with less sugar, some companies have opted for artificial sweeteners, which may, some say, have their own health risks.
5. A can of Coke will cost you more
Unlike many other brands, Coca-Cola has refused to change its classic recipe, which means its price will go up with the new tax.
6. Milky drinks are exempt
The tax won’t apply to high-sugar drinks if they contain 75% milk, meaning that some sugary milkshakes won’t change in price.
7. Teenagers are the main offenders
Research has shown that the average teen consumes three times the recommended amount of free sugars, which are the sugars not naturally present in food. The introduction of the tax on sugary drinks will aim to change this.
8. There’s little evidence to suggest it will work
While the proportion of smokers halved in the UK between 1974 and 2013, as tobacco prices rose, the awareness of health risks also increased in that time. Therefore, it’s hard to know whether price alone can be a deterrent from unhealthy habits.
9. It doesn’t apply to food
Currently, there will be no tax on high-sugar foods, meaning that the law will have little benefit on public health if shoppers choose to trade their sweet drinks for cheaper, sugary snacks.
10. The money will go to the government
The extra pennies spent on every sugary drink will go to the government, which will be able to use it to fund public health initiatives.