In its latest report to promote healthy diets, Food for Thought, the British Medical Association (BMA) has recommended the introduction of a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.
“The use of taxation measures on unhealthy food and drink products has consistently been found to have the potential to improve health, with relatively high taxation levels (in the region of 20%) needed to achieve positive health outcomes,” says the report. “… a useful first step would be to implement a duty on sugar-sweetened beverages (all non-alcoholic water based beverages with added sugar, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drink, sports drinks and fruit-juice concentrates) by increasing the price by at least 20%.
“This reflects that the strongest evidence of effectiveness of taxation approaches is for sugar-sweetened beverages; that these products are typically high in calories and low in essential vitamins and minerals (often referred to as ‘empty calories’); that the intake of added sugars by many children and adults in the UK far exceeds recommended levels; and that a high intake of added sugars is a risk factor for a range of health conditions.”
The BMA also says that the use of subsidisation could be used to promote the consumption of healthier products: “Consideration should therefore be given to the introduction of fiscal measures to subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables in the UK, which could be funded by the introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.”
The report also said that in other countries, such as Mexico, taxing sugary drinks has been shown to cut consumption.
However, earlier this month the Food and Drink Federation claimed that a sugar tax would not make a positive difference. In response to Jamie Oliver’s recent plan for a sugary drink tax in his restaurants, Ian Wright, director general of the FDF, said “… additional taxes on food and drinks don’t work. Where they’ve been introduced they’ve not proven effective at driving long-term change to diets.”
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is due to publish its final recommendations on sugar consumption later this week.