Snack tax may be more effective than a sugary drink

A new study has claimed taxing high sugar snacks such as biscuits, cakes, and sweets might be more effective at reducing obesity levels than increasing the price of sugar sweetened drinks.

Led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the research used economic modelling to assess the impact of a 20 per cent price increase on high sugar snack foods in the UK.

Based on food purchase data for 36,324 UK households and National Diet and Nutrition Survey data for 2,544 adults, results were grouped by household income and body mass index (BMI) to estimate changes in weight and prevalence of obesity over one year.

The study authors suggest that increasing the price of biscuits, cakes, chocolates and sweets by 20 per cent would reduce annual average energy intake by around 8,900 calories, leading to an average weight loss of 1.3 kg over one year. Contrastingly, a similar price increase on sugary drinks would result in an average weight loss of just 203g over one year.

In the UK, high sugar snacks, such as biscuits, cakes, chocolates and sweets make up more free sugar and energy intake than sugary drinks. Reducing purchases of high sugar snacks therefore has the potential to make a greater impact on population health than reducing the purchase of sugary drinks.

A 20 per cent price increase in high sugar snacks has the potential to reduce overall energy purchased among all body mass index and income groups in the UK, leading to an estimated population level reduction in obesity prevalence of 2.7 per cent after the first year. This suggests that price increases in high sugar snacks could also make an important contribution to reducing health inequalities driven by diet-related disease.

Pauline Scheelbeek, lead author from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The use of taxes to lower sugar and energy intake have mainly focused on sugar sweetened drinks. Our work found that price increases in high sugar snacks such as chocolates, confectionery, cookies and cake could make an important contribution to government policies to tackle obesity, and reduce existing gaps in healthy life expectancy.

“There is no silver bullet for tackling obesity and improving nutritional health in the UK. However our study suggests fiscal interventions to discourage purchase of high sugar snacks could play an important role in the integrative approach required.”