Studies offer differing perspectives on effectiveness of a sugar tax

Two studies, one conducted in Spain, the other in the United Kingdom (UK), have sought to measure how effective a sugar tax is when it comes to decreasing consumption of sugary drinks.

In the case of the UK study, the news reasonably positive, with findings showing that a sugar tax, applied in this case to manufacturers to encourage them to reduce the sugar content in their products, can take steps to improving public health while not harming the sugary drink industry.

That might seem like a contradictory result, but it appears that consumers are opting for lower sugar drinks when they buy sugary drinks but that they are still buying as much soft drinks as before, sign that they are heeding the fact that sugar is not beneficial for good oral or overall health.

With high sugar consumption known to be a major contributor to an increased risk of dental caries, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, any downward trend in the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), which amounted to 30g or three fewer teaspoons per household, is to be welcomed.

Meanwhile in Spain, a sugar tax instituted in Catalonia has had, according to News Medical: Life Sciences, “only a limited, moderate effect in shifting people’s dietary habits and behaviors [sic].”

The research conducted by an international team of economists and published in the journal Social Science & Medicine compared the shopping baskets of people in Catalonia with the rest of Spain which does not have a sugar tax in place.

While the purchase of high SSBs which are taxed did decline, consumers subsisted these with lower sugar untaxed options meaning the overall sugar reduction was a modest 2.2%, equaling only 3.7 calories per person per month.

It is hoped the results will provide guidance to policymakers with researchers suggesting that for “these taxes are to be more effective, they need to be more visible at the checkout so that consumers become increasingly aware of the added cost of their high-sugar choices.”

For more on the UK study, go to “Consumption of sugar from soft drinks falls within a year of UK sugar tax” and for the Spanish study, go to “Study: Sugar tax had only moderate effect in people’s dietary habits, behaviors”

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