Tax sugary drinks to reduce obesity, says new study

Plan would also earn Treasury £276m, but the beverage industry insists research is 'misguided'

A 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks would reduce the number of obese adults in the UK by 180,000, bring in £276m to the Treasury and save the NHS millions, a study has claimed.

The proposal, which would increase the cost of a can of Coca Cola by approximately 12p, would have a small but significant impact on growing obesity rates in young people, who are far more likely to drink high-sugar fizzy drinks, the researchers said.

However, the drinks industry called the research “misguided” and said a sugary-drinks tax would do nothing to combat obesity.

The findings come a week after the Government’s own physical activity tsar, Fred Turok, spoke at an event hosted by Coca Cola at which he urged the company to help “change the debate” and shift the focus of public health efforts away from obesity and towards increasing levels of physical activity.

Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, said the authors of the study, which is published in the British Medical Journal today. Researchers from Oxford and Reading universities used data from surveys on consumers’ buying habits, the price of drinks and body-weight to estimate the impact of a 20 per cent surcharge on high-sugar-content drinks.

Such a tax would cut obesity rates by 1.3 per cent, and reduce the number of overweight people by 285,000, the authors said, with the bulk of the impact seen in people aged 16 to 29: the major consumers of sugary drinks.

Obesity, which is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and other serious medical conditions, costs the NHS billions every year.

Mr Turok, the founder of gym chain LA Fitness, chairs UK Active, which promotes physical activity and is partnered with the Department of Health’s Physical Activity Network, which Mr Turok also chairs alongside Health minister Dan Poulter.

Last week Mr Turok told delegates at Coca Cola’s “Together We Move” event, that a focus on obesity as a public health issue was distracting from the greater dangers of physical inactivity, and urged the soft-drinks giant to help “change the debate from obesity to activity”, adding that the UK seemed to be “obsessed with obesity”.

His comments drew criticism from leading cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra. “There is no doubt that regular physical activity is good for health,” he told The Independent. “[But] to suggest that companies associated with junk food should use physical activity to promote their brand in my view is a damaging public-health message.”

Speaking after the event Mr Turok said: “Obesity... must be addressed through portion control, better quality food intake and reducing sugar. But inactivity is a silent killer even if you are thin. This is about a healthy overall lifestyle, measuring the fitness of your heart, not just the size of your waist.”

Commenting on the BMJ study, Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said there was “ample evidence” that taxing soft drinks would not curb obesity.

“Trying to blame one set of products is misguided, particularly when they comprise a mere 2 per cent of calories in the average diet,” he said.

The Department of Health said it was helping to reduce obesity through its Responsibility Deals – voluntary pledges in which food and drink makers agree to reduce the level of unhealthy ingredients in some of their products.

A spokesperson said: “We believe [this] will help people make healthier choices, but we keep all international evidence under review.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

    £15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

    £11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

    £15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy