Sugar Taxes – what does the evidence say?

Sugar Taxes – what does the evidence say?

In the UK, adults consume 50g per day and children 100g per day of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) [1]. This dietary behaviour is contributing towards excessive energy and sugar intakes which are said to be fuelling the obesity epidemic, as well as poor dental health and higher type 2 diabetes incidence. Therefore, there is clear evidence which indicates reducing consumption of these drinks may improve our overall health. But how do we get the public to consume less of these drinks?

Upstream approaches, such as taxes, are an effective way of tackling this public health issue. In 6 months’ time, a two-tiered levy will operate on SSBs in the UK. After years of campaigning, health campaigners finally won the battle against the food industry and a soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) was announced by George Osbourne in 2016. Food Actives campaign, Give Up Loving Pop played an important role alongside other advocacy groups, in raising awareness of the health harms associated with sugary drinks and drumming up support for the tax.

Furthermore, Ireland have recently announced plans to introduce a similar tax as well as many other countries already implementing one across the globe; Portugal, Hong Kong, Philippines, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Indonesia, Columbia, Brazil, India and U.S cities including New York and Boulder. Sugar taxes are high on the agenda in the global fight against obesity.

With the introduction of the SDIL in the UK fast approaching – the debate around sugar taxes is intensifying. Food Active has compiled a brief review of all the available evidence relating to sugar taxes and influence on consumption and sales of sugar-sweetened beverages after the implementation of a tax. Whilst different countries and establishments operate slightly different taxes, the goal remains the same – to reduce the consumption of SSB in the general population to improve health outcomes.


The Evidence:

Jamie’s Italian 10p Sugar Tax [2]:

  • Analysed SSB purchasing patterns in 37 Jamie’s Italian restaurants across the UK.
  • Compared with pre-levy period, number of SSB’s sold declined by 11% at 12 weeks and 9.3% at 6 months.


Berkeley, California 1% Excise Tax [2]:

  • Measured SSB consumption pre- and post-implementation of 1% excise tax on SSBs.
  • 1 year after tax implemented, average 21% reduction in overall SSB consumption. Greatest reduction seen in energy/sports drinks category (36%).
  • Also found water consumption increased by over two thirds.


Mexico’s 1peso/litre Tax [4]:

  • Measured pre-tax and post-tax trends of SSB consumption from Mexico’s 1 peso/litre in 2014.
  • After 1 year, a drop of 5.5% in sales and second year 9.7% decline, averaging a 7.6% decline in SSB sales after the tax.
  • Largest falls in consumption seen in lower socioeconomic households.
  • Increase in sales of plain water by 5.2%
  • A recent modelling study has also predicted this tax could prevent nearly 190,000 new cases of diabetes over the next 10 years – an average saving of £785 million [5]


Meta-analysis on SSB and Obesity [6]:

  • 4 articles indicated increased demand for milk-based drinks and reduced demand for diet-drinks.
  • 6 articles showed a higher price could also lead to a decrease in BMI and decrease the prevalence of overweight and obesity.



  • Whilst there is no one silver bullet in tackling obesity, fiscal measures can be a useful tool in improving nutrition behaviours in whole populations.
  • Sugar tax indicate habitation away from unhealthy SSB consumption.
  • Other beneficial impacts of the tax include increased water and milk-based drinks consumption.
  • Evaluation of UK SDIL is crucial in monitoring its effectiveness and impact on public health.



[1] Ng S.W, Ni Mhurchu C, Jebb S.A, et al. (2012). Patterns and trends of beverage consumption among children and adults in Great Britain, 1986-2009. British Journal of Nutrition. 108, pp.536–51

[2] Cornelsen, L. Mytton, O.T. Adams, J. et al. (2017). Change in non-alcoholic beverage sales following a 10-pence levy on sugar-sweetened beverages within a national chain of resturants in the UK: interrupted time series analysis of a natural experiment. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 71 (11), pp.1107-1112.

[3] Falbe, J., Thompson, H.R., Becker, C.M., Rojas, N., McCulloch, C.E. and Madsen, K.A. (2016). Impact of the Berkeley Excise Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption. American Journal of Public Health. 106 (10), pp.1865-1871

[4] Colchero, M.A. Popkin, B.M. Rivera, J. et al. (2016). Beverage purchases from stores in Mexico under the excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages: observational study. BMJ. 352.

[5] The Lancet. (2017). Sweet success: will sugar taxes improve health? [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 17th October 2017].

[6] Escobar, M.A.C, Veerman, J.L. Tollman, S.M. et al. (2013). Evidence that a tax on sugar sweetened beverages reduces the obesity rate: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 13, pp.245-248.


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