Sugar tax effective?

Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain sceptical

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World Economic Forum

Will a sugar tax help reduce obesity?

If there was a simple way to stop the world getting fatter, it would surely have been found and implemented by now.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organisation.

It is no longer just a problem for rich nations. Most of the world’s population now lives in a country where more people are overweight than underweight.

Obesity is costing the world $2 trillion dollars annually according to a report from the Mckinsey Global Institute, which classifies obesity as one of the top three social burdens generated by human beings, almost on a par with smoking and armed conflict.

But while there may not be one way to solve the problem, a tax on sugar is increasingly being considered as part of the solution.

And Norway - as it does on many issues - is leading the way.

The Norwegian example

Norway has had a tax on added sugar since 1922. But it decided to hike this tax by an enormous 83% at the start of 2018, with products like sweets and chocolates now taxed at $4.69 per kilo.

Many governments have had considerable success in using tax rises as a way to deter people from smoking and drinking alcohol, but will a sugar tax work in reducing obesity?

Norway’s sugar consumption is already considerably lower than some countries, averaging 27kgs a year, compared to 34kgs a year for the average American. And only one in six children is overweight in Norway, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, compared to one in three children in the UK and US.

Parts of the food industry are worried that the tax will make Norway less competitive, and some residents have chosen to avoid the tax altogether by going shopping for treats in neighbouring Sweden.

But Norway has set itself a clear goal: It wants to reduce the sugar intake of each of its citizens by 12.5% by 2021.

While it is still too early to draw conclusions from the dramatic tax hike, the rest of the world will be watching closely to assess its impact on the nation’s eating habits.

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Can a Tax on Sugary Drinks Reduce Obesity?

Professor Mike Rayner, Dr Pete Scarborough and their team in the British Heart Foundation Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention modelled the effect of a 20% tax on sugary soft drinks in the UK, finding a distinct reduction in rates of obesity, particularly among young people.

Sugary soft drinks are increasingly understood to have negative health effects, especially their contribution to rising rates of obesity. Various ways of reducing their consumption have been suggested including placing a tax on drinks based on their sugar content - if the sugary option is more expensive, then consumers will choose a cheaper, healthier option.

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