Taxing high-sugar snacks such as biscuits, cakes and sweets might be more effective at reducing obesity levels than increasing the price of sugar-sweetened drinks, suggests a study published in the BMJ.
The study authors say a ‘smack tax’ is worthy of further research and consideration as part of an integrated approach to tackling obesity.
To date, the use of taxes to lower sugar and energy intake have mainly focused on sugar-sweetened drinks. But in the UK, high sugar snacks, such as biscuits, cakes, chocolates and sweets, make up more free sugar and energy intake than sugary drinks. Reducing purchases of high sugar snacks therefore has the potential to have a greater effect on population health than reducing the purchase of sugary drinks.
This new study used economic modelling to assess the impact of a 20 per cent price increase on high-sugar snack foods in the UK. Modelling was based on food purchase data for 36,324 UK households and National Diet and Nutrition Survey data for 2544 adults. Results were grouped by household income and body mass index to estimate changes in weight and prevalence of obesity over one year.
The results suggest that for all income groups combined, increasing the price of biscuits, cakes, chocolates and sweets by 20 per cent would reduce annual average energy intake by around 8900 kcal, leading to an average weight loss of 1.3 kg over one year.
In contrast, a similar price increase on sugary drinks would result in an average weight loss of just 203 g over one year. Modelling also predicted that the impact of the price increase would be largest in low income households with the highest rates of obesity.
The authors conclude that a 20 per cent ‘snack tax’ on high-sugar snacks "has the potential to reduce overall energy purchased among all body mass index and income groups in the UK, leading to an estimated population level reduction in obesity prevalence of 2.7 percentage points after the first year.”