Sugar tax lowers sugar intake but people still eating too much overall, new study shows

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People are consuming less sugar, thanks to the tax imposed on soft drinks, but people are still consuming too much, according to a new study.

The sugar tax, which places a levy on soft drinks, came into place in Britain six years ago in a bid to curb people’s sugar consumption and according to long-term research, it has been effective. Previous research linked sugary drinks to a number of health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature death.

However, according to the researchers, people are not meeting UK or World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, still eating too much sugar overall. Known as ‘free sugars’, both adults and children are, in general, consuming too much of it.

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Fizzy drinks are a major culprit when it comes to ‘free sugar’ content but biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts and breakfast cereals are also to blame. And it’s not just products with sugar added, honey, syrups, unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies also contain free sugars, despite them being naturally occurring.

Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

As a way to discourage manufacturers from adding sugar to their products, the sugar tax came into force in the UK in April 2018. The research found, one year after the sugar tax came into force, children were consuming 4.8g per day less sugar, while adults had an intake that was 10.9g lower. Most of this drop has been attributed to less sugar from soft drinks – slashing 3g off children’s daily sugar consumption and 5g off that of adults.

Experts from the University of Cambridge and University College London, among others, conducted the study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looking at data from 2008 to 2019 to explore sugar trends over time. A total of 7,656 children and 7,999 adults were included in the final analysis.

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The results revealed a drop in sugar consumption following the introduction of the tax, concluding it “led to significant reductions in dietary free sugar consumption in children and adults”. The experts said the data indicates calories from free sugar were dropping at the same time as a decline in overall calorie intake as the energy people got from free sugar as a percentage of total energy did not change.

Britain is not alone in the introduction of a sugar tax on soft drinks - in fact, more than 50 countries have imposed a similar levy. According to WHO and the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, free sugar consumption should be limited to below 5% of a person’s total energy intake, the daily equivalent of 30g for adults, 24g for children aged seven to 10 and 19g for young children aged four to six.

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