How effective will sugar tax be for reducing health risks?
As of 6th April 2018, a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) will come into effect in the UK. It is believed this measure will help target population obesity, particularly among younger adults, and reduce the adverse health and cost burdens of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Sugar is known to contribute to obesity epidemic, due to low satiety and stimulate appetite and to promote weight gain.
Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are especially harmful due to the high amounts of sugar and the large quantities consumed. Consumption of SSBs has been shown to result in rapid and dramatic increases in blood glucose and insulin concentrations, contributing to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, independently of obesity.
Based on this scientific evidence, WHO has recently recommended to further reduce free sugars intake from less than 10% to less than 5% of total daily energy intake.
The Organics Council says this tax pretends to emulate the success, in the reduction of sugar consumption seen in other countries like Hungary, or Mexico, where sugary-drink purchases have decreased between 6% to 27% after the tax was applied.
However, unlike other countries that have taxed all type of sugar sweetened beverages (and even diet beverages and biscuits and confectionery products, like in the cases of France and Hungary, respectively) UK ‘sugar tax’ will only target soft drinks with over 5g of sugar per 100ml.
The tax will not apply to all other high-sugar content drinks, like juices, or drinks containing >75% of milk, like milkshakes or coffee drinks, despite all being also potentially dangerous. This is contradictory, as the daily limit of 25 g of sugar (equivalent to 6 teaspoons) is already reached by drinking a 250 ml glass of apple juice.
Another problem is that the sugar tax may encourage the consumption of artificial sweetened drinks, wrongly perceived as innocuous by the fact that are calorie-free. Recently, scientific experts are calling for a reassessment of massive artificial sweetener usage, which is linked to glucose intolerance, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
Also, artificial sweeteners are becoming environmental contaminants due to their high persistence in aquatic ecosystems, since some of them, like acesulfame, cannot be eliminated in waste water treatment plants.
Organics Council’s science committee member Dr Gonzalo Delgado says: “When it comes to public health policy decisions, it's essential that these are based in solid scientific evidence. Sugar taxes can be useful to decrease sugar consumption, but they need to target all high sugar content and artificial sweetened foods, not only soft drinks as in the UK case. Consumers, and people in general, need to be well informed about current scientific knowledge, so they can make the correct choices in regard of their nutrition and health.”
A coordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign, Malcolm Clark agrees that; “The sugary drinks tax in its present form will not solve the UK’s childhood obesity crisis”, pointing to the need for other policy interventions including restrictions on marketing.
For further information around how The Organics Council work to protect the public through organic practice, research and campaigning, please visit the official website at http://organicscouncil.org