On Friday, the UK introduced a “Sugar Tax” on sweet drinks, purportedly to help reduce childhood obesity. Will it work? Personally, I doubt it.
There’s a few reasons – first and foremost, that a lot of manufacturers have already chosen to reduce the sugar levels in their drinks to put them into lower rates for the sugar tax.
Connected to that, diet and zero-calorie versions of most of those drinks have been available for years. If people haven’t chosen to swap by now, will paying 10p extra make them change? Probably not. There’s not even a really visible price difference – at least two of the shop chains I use regularly have upped the price on all the drinks, not just the sugary ones, which also defeats the object. If there were a visible difference ( “I can buy 500ml of the sugary one for £1.50, or the diet one for £1.35, so I’ll save money”) then it might work, but without that, I don’t see that there’s a real driver to force the change.
Alongside that, I *personally* have a problem with government telling me how to be healthy, and attempting to enforce that. I have the same issue when it comes to smoking, the way government encourages people to stop smoking, while also getting massive amounts of income from the tax and duty on cigarettes. (This also applies for alcohol, telling people to drink less while getting the income from the tax and duty, and so on and so on)
I also suspect that there’s a lot more damage done by the ‘invisibly’ sweet drinks – the bizarre creamy milky super-sweet concoctions from Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Costa et al – which now seem to be far more prevalent than sweet fizzy drinks. I suspect there’s a lot more of the obesity blame that can be laid on the coffee culture now than can be laid at the soft-drinks industry. I’m not even sure that the coffee chains are being hit by the sugar tax – I haven’t seen any mention of it being on anything except the soft-drinks industry.
It’ll be interesting to see the results – although of course the government will always claim it to have been a massive success, even when it’s a clusterfuck of monumental proportions – but I really don’t expect to see it have any positive effects on reducing obesity, whether in children or adults.