In sweet-toothed Britain, sugary soda levy may have limited impact

Thu Mar 17, 2016 9:00am EDT
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By Kate Kelland and Martinne Geller

LONDON (Reuters) - With its surprise move to tax sugary drinks, Britain joins several Western countries battling a key suspect in rising rates of obesity and diabetes, but health and industry experts say the levy is limited and its effect may be small.1

To be serious about cutting calorie intake by reducing sugar consumption, they say, authorities would need to go in harder on sugary drinks and much broader too - taking on less obvious targets such as dairy products and processed savory foods.

Britain's finance minister George Osborne, announcing the tax on Wednesday, said it would apply to drinks with a total sugar content of more than 5 grams per 100 milliliters. A higher rate will apply to drinks with more than 8 grams per 100 ml.

The exact rate has not been specified, but will be charged on manufacturers and will come into force in April 2018. Fruit juices and milk-based drinks will be exempt, as will diet sodas.

France, Belgium, Hungary and Mexico have all imposed some form of tax on drinks with added sugar, while Scandinavian countries have levied similar taxes, with varying degrees of success, for several years.

The idea in Britain, Osborne said, is to target the sugar-laden cans of sodas like cola and lemonade often consumed by children in lower socio-economic groups - which studies show have higher rates of obesity and tooth decay.

Public Health England says its data show the average five-year-old consumes the equivalent of their body weight in sugar in the course of a year.

Yet while health, nutrition and market experts said the planned levy is a nod in the right direction toward encouraging healthier food choices and forcing companies to cut calories, they are skeptical about its likely real-life effect.   Continued...

Biscuits depicting Britain's Queen Elizabeth and the Union flag sit on trays at Biscuiteers in London, Britain in this May 14, 2012 file photo.     REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/Files