Tax fizzy drinks by 20%, say doctors

Around 40 per cent of young  people drink a fizzy drink every day. Picture: TSPL
Around 40 per cent of young people drink a fizzy drink every day. Picture: TSPL
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A 20 PER cent tax on fizzy pop would cut the number of overweight people in Britain by nearly half a million, according to a new study.

Researchers say as the biggest consumers of sugary soft drinks, young adults would benefit the most.

The study, published on bmj.com, claims a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks would reduce the number of adults who are obese by 180,000 and who are overweight by 285,000.

Researchers say the tax would also raise more than a quarter of a billion pounds a year to help the NHS cope with the burden of Britain’s poor national diet.

According to the new study by the Universities of Oxford and Reading, the tax would cut the overall number of overweight and obese people by just over two per cent (2.2), although researchers calculate it could raise £276 million annually.

In an accompanying editorial, Jason Block, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in the United States, says the study provides evidence that a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks can work and he calls on more countries “to implement high taxes and measure the results”. A proposal by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges calling for the UK to pilot and monitor the effect of a one-year tax on sugary drinks “would be a good start,” he said.

“We now need policy makers to act and provide opportunities for real-world evidence on a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks,” he concludes.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which helped fund the study, said: “Guzzling fizzy drinks is now the daily norm for around 40 per cent of 13-year-olds.

“The effects on young people’s health are a major concern. This research suggests that a health-related food duty could be an effective way – particularly in young people – to help reduce obesity.”

However, Terry Jones, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “There are obvious limitations to any study of this type, as the paper’s authors themselves highlight.

“Many food and drink products are already subject to VAT of 20 per cent in the UK and making them more expensive for people at a time when household budgets are already squeezed is not the answer.”

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “There’s ample evidence to suggest that taxing soft drinks won’t curb obesity, not least because its causes are far more complex than this simplistic approach implies.”