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Taxes and labelling effective at discouraging people from buying sugary beverages

Posted June 1, 2019

Sugary drinks are wildly unhealthy and yet they are so delicious. Many young people enjoy sugary beverages a little too much, which makes them fat and sick. One of the ways to reduce consumption of sugary beverages is taxation, but is it effective? A new study from the University of Waterloo showed that taxes can lower the consumption of drinks with high-sugar content.

Sugary drinks are a huge toll on healthcare systems worldwide and it seems like taxation and informative labelling systems can change that. Image credit: Nandaro via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Numerous countries have already implemented sugar taxes in one way or another. The goal is always the same – reducing consumption of unhealthy beverages and the healthcare costs associated with them. However, scientists and policy makers were not sure whether taxes do actually make a difference. That is why they conducted study, which included more than 3,500 people aged 13 and over.

Scientists asked participants to become subjects in an experiment. They had to purchase food and snacks in scenarios involving different levels of sugar taxes. Other parts of the study involved warning labels, which are also considered as a measure to discourage purchase of sugary beverages. Scientists found that both of these methods were quite effective and participants chose drinks and snacks with less sugar, sodium, saturated fat and calories. “High in” labelling system, which was already implemented in Chile, was especially effective. It is currently being considered in Canada, where this research was conducted.

Different countries are considering different labelling system. UK uses a traffic light system, where different colours indicate how unhealthy the beverage is. Meanwhile Australia and New Zealand use a health star rating system. However, this new research showed that neither of these labelling systems are as effective as a simple “High in”. Probably because a simple text is easy to understand and difficult to ignore – certainly more difficult than some graphic symbols. Scientists say that the policy should include 100 per cent fruit juice too.

People often choose juice as a healthy alternative to sodas and other beverages with high sugar content. However, juice may have as much juice as sugary drinks. That is why policies, whether they would be taxes or labels, should be constructed to include as many unhealthy drinks as possible.

David Hammond, co-author of the study, said: “Taxes on sugary drinks and better nutrition labels are the types of measures that can help reverse increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease from unhealthy diets. Evidence is particularly important given strong opposition from the industry. Indeed, industry lobbying has delayed and threatens to derail the nutrition labels announced by the federal government more than a year ago”.


Source: University of Waterloo

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