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How much does a sugar tax improve public health?

An international research team led by the University of York has found that the new sugar tax on soda in Chile has successfully reduced the consumption of the sugary soft drinks. This decline in soda consumption, however, may not be enough to reduce the socioeconomic inequalities associated with diet-related health.

Taxes on sugary drinks have been adopted in a growing number of cities to help combat rising obesity levels. In Chile, the sugar tax was introduced in 2014.

The tax was applied to any non-alcoholic beverages with added sweeteners, flavors, or colorants. For drinks that have an added sugar concentration of at least 6. 25 grams per 100 milliliters, the existing tax was increased from 13 to 18 percent. For drinks with sugar concentrations below this threshold, the tax was decreased from 13 to 10 percent, creating a variance of 8 percent.

The experts analyzed data on grocery purchases in Chile over the three years before the tax was adopted and also from the year after.

The researchers found that, despite the fact that the tax incentive is comparably small, there are indications that fewer beverages with high sugar content were purchased. This was particularly found to be the case among high socioeconomic groups.

Out of an overall drop of 21. 6 percent in monthly purchases of sugary soft drinks, 16 percent of the decline was attributed to middle socioeconomic groups and 31 percent was attributed to high socioeconomic groups. Among members of the low socioeconomic group, there was a 12 percent reduction in purchases.

As far as non-sugary soft drinks, on the other hand, there was no increase in the volume purchased by any of the socioeconomic groups.

The study authors said that the findings from Chile could have implications for the UK, which recently introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks.

Study co-author Marc Suhrcke is a professor of Global Health Economics at the University of York.

“The results suggest that the Chilean tax policy may have been effective in reducing consumption of sugary drinks, though not necessarily to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in diet-related health,” said Professor Suhrcke. “Further evaluations are needed to analyse the policy effect on purchasing of soft drinks in the long run as well as to evaluate the impact on health outcomes.”

Professor Cuadrado from the University of Chile added: “Our results suggest an overall reduction of sugar consumption after the implementation of the tax in Chile. From a public health perspective, even a small reduction in sugar intake at the population level could lead to significant health gains.”

“Other countries may take heart from our findings, in that it indicates that the tax incentive may not need to be huge to have impact. It also shows that there may be more than one way in which an SSB tax can be implemented with some success.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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