Sugar levy just one step in the right direction

Sugar levy just one step in the right direction

06 April 2018

Today’s (Friday 6th April) introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy is a welcome step in the right direction, but only one part of what needs to be a much wider programme of action to tackle childhood obesity, says the British Dietetic Association.

The new levy has already had the intended effect, with a number of big name brands choosing to reduce the sugar content of their drinks. This has been complemented by a voluntary reformulation programme by Public Health England which targets other high-sugar products most often consumed by children. 

However, cutting down sugar through taxes and reformulation programmes can only ever be one piece of the puzzle. Obesity is a complex and multi-faceted problem, and will require a range of actions to be truly effective, from restrictions on marketing and advertising of High Fat, Sugar and Salt Foods, to evidence based education interventions and public health messaging. Fundamentally, children and adults can most effectively reduce their sugar intake by cutting out sugar sweetened beverages or HFSS foods, rather than relying on reformulation to improve their diet.

Newly released statistics from NHS Digital[i] highlight the challenge from obesity that the UK still faces. The number of people admitted to hospital with obesity as a factor has risen by 18% to 617,000 in 2016/17 from 2015/16. Childhood obesity rates continue to be worryingly high, and children from more deprived backgrounds continue to be much more likely to be obese or overweight.

“The sugar levy is certainly a positive development, but it isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to solve our obesity problem” said BDA Chair Elect and Public Health Dietitian Caroline Bovey. “I know from my day-to-day work how challenging it is to change children and adult’s eating behaviour. It is really important that the governments across the UK implement a range of actions to tackle obesity, including properly funded nutrition education and cooking skills training. We will only reverse the obesity trend if people are empowered to take action themselves within a supportive environment.”

Like any wide ranging public health policy, the sugar levy has had some unintended consequences, and it is important that steps are taken to mitigate these. For people with the condition Phenylketonuria (PKU), the increased use of aspartame and other ingredients containing phenylalanine, which they cannot break down, has a serious impact. Clear labelling and an approach that reduces the overall sweetness of drinks, rather than just replacing sugar with sweeteners, is the best way forward. 


Notes to editor

  • The Soft Drinks Industry Levy is charged at two rates; a higher 24p per litre on drinks with more than 8g added sugar per 100ml and a lower rate of 18p per litre for drinks between 5 and 8g per 100ml. Fruit juices without added sugars, alcoholic beverages (or low-alcohol versions) and milk-based drinks with more than 75% milk are not counted. Find out more here:

  • The British Dietetic Association (BDA), founded in 1936, is the professional association and trade union for dietitians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the nation’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals with over 9,000 members.

  • Dietitians are highly qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems at an individual and wider public health level. They are statutorily regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), alongside other Allied Health Professions.

  • Dietitians use the most up to date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease, which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices. They work in the NHS, private practice, industry, education, research, sport, media and government. Their advice influences food and health policy across the spectrum from government and global industry to local communities and individuals.

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