Potential impact on prevalence of obesity in the UK of a 20% price increase in high sugar snacks: modelling study

Pauline F D Scheelbeek; Laura Cornelsen; Theresa M Marteau; Richard D Smith

This modelling study published in the BMJ finds that a 20% price increase in high sugar snacks has the potential to reduce overall energy purchased among all body mass index (BMI) and household income groups in the United Kingdom. The largest reduction would occur in low income households classified as obese, and the smallest in high income households classified as not overweight. Overall, the estimated population level reduction in prevalence of obesity in the first year was 2.7 percentage points and a BMI reduction of .53%.

The authors calculated for changes in three types of food products: confectionery (including chocolate), biscuits, and cakes, based on findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) which show that "on average sugar sweetened beverages contribute 2% of total energy and 11% of free sugar intake compared with 12% of total energy and 26% of free sugar intake from biscuits, cakes, and confectionery combined." Although the UK introduced a voluntary sugar reduction reformulation programme in 2016, progress has been slow. According to a report by Public Health England, between 2015 and 2017 there was only a 1% reduction in sugar content of confectionery compared with a 5-6% decline in the sugar content of yoghurt and breakfast cereals.

While this study is specific to the UK context, the authors draw on real-life case studies on taxing unhealthy foods in Mexico, Hungary and Finland. The results of this modelling study should encourage policy makers everywhere to think about whether comprehensive sugar taxes can help improve public health outcomes in their cities, regions and countries. This is also an opportunity for actors across the food industry to consider how they can begin making changes to products in their portfolios to better support healthy diets.

To help contextualise some of the findings in this report, there is also an editorial: Taxing confectionery, biscuits, and cakes to control obesity and an opinion piece: What next for fiscal interventions to prevent obesity?

This resource has been peer reviewed