Tax People to Change Behaviour – How to Make a Sweet Impact

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cov200hUnless you have been living in a far flung part of the world where access to data is limited most people are aware that sugar has finally been determined to be a far more problematic part of human health decline and disease risk that the much trumpeted but now derided role of fats. Recently poularised opinions, driven by scientists such as Robert Lustig and communicated via films such as Fed Up have in the minds of many made sugar the new tobacco.

In the Guardian Newspaper August 2014 Dr Lustig stated:

“Politicians have to come in and reset the playing field, as they have with any substance that is toxic and abused, ubiquitous and with negative consequence for society,” he says. “Alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine. We don’t have to ban any of them. We don’t have to ban sugar. But the food industry cannot be given carte blanche. They’re allowed to make money, but they’re not allowed to make money by making people sick.”

One way they may do that is through taxation – in effect a compulsory cost on a decision that will generate funds for the government, but also suppress choice through economic compression – the same way that tax on alcohol and cigarettes has done. Is there any stomach for this in the UK – well the British Medical Association – not known for their radical public health policy suggestions have pitched in and suggested a 20% tax be applied to all sugary drinks. Plus fruits and vegetable costs should be subsidised to encourage greater consumption.[1]

Is there any evidence this may have a beneficial effect? – well it seems that it does work and more data coming out suggests it cannot be long before the UK government sees this as a way to raise revenue and reduce future costs related to illness such as type 2 diabetes.[2],[3],[4],[5]


The UK government has a real opportunity to introduce a tax with translatable health benefits that will drive changes in behaviour that will ultimately reduce future NHS costs – which we all know are unsustainable.

Has anyone done it? Well the Mexican Nutritional Health Alliance announces a 6% reduction in purchase of sugary beverages since implementation of the peso-per-litre tax. Lets get this message vocalised in our families, friends and patients.


[1] Accessed 29.7.15

[2] Long MW, Gortmaker SL, Ward ZJ, Resch SC, Moodie ML, Sacks G, Swinburn BA, Carter RC, Claire Wang Y. Cost Effectiveness of a Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Excise Tax in the U.S. Am J Prev Med. 2015 Jul;49(1):112-23 View Abstract

[3] Zhen C, Brissette IF, Ruff RR. By Ounce or By Calorie: The Differential Effects of Alternative Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Strategies. Am J Agric Econ. 2014 Jul 1;96(4):1070-1083. View Full Paper

[4] Cabrera Escobar MA, Veerman JL, Tollman SM, Bertram MY, Hofman KJ. Evidence that a tax on sugar sweetened beverages reduces the obesity rate: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2013 Nov 13;13:1072 View Full Paper

[5] Basu S, Vellakkal S, Agrawal S, Stuckler D, Popkin B, Ebrahim S. Averting obesity and type 2 diabetes in India through sugar-sweetened beverage taxation: an economic-epidemiologic modeling study. PLoS Med. 2014 Jan;11(1):e1001582. View Full Paper

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Stephanie Burden
    July 31, 2015 5:49 pm

    It cannot be denied that many people consume far too much sugar. In an ideal world, people would reduce the number of ‘fizzy’ drinks that they consume, but I know that we do not live in an ideal world. I have spoken to a friend who drinks Coca Cola regularly, who says that it has been good for her health to switch from ‘full-fat’ to reduced-sugar as she has lost weight. I am not an advocate of fizzy drinks, but on the odd occasion that I do purchase them, it can be extremely difficult to find any without artificial sweeteners. I am concerned that a tax on sugar will not make people reduce the amount of fizzy drinks that they consume but will instead lead them to consume more and more artificial sweeteners. So their health will improve in some ways, but are we encouraging a move to far greater consumption of artificial sweeteners for everyone and the possible health risks that that may bring further down the line?


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