UK Groups Say Fight Childhood Obesity With a Soda Tax

Putting a tax of 7p on soda drinks could help cut childhood obesity, raise money for free school meals and give more children regular access to fruit and vegetables, a collective of some 60 health groups argues in backing a new report.

The report, issued by the food and farming charity Sustain, estimates that the government could raise as much as £1bn a year if it was to put a 7p tax on sugary drinks. That money, the report argues, could be used to pay for free school meals and, in addition, food literacy campaigns to encourage healthy eating habits.

The report, backed by organizations including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Friends of the Earth, the National Heart Forum and the Royal Society for Public Health, echoes recommendations made in the U.S. by public health experts who believe that, according to the data they have analyzed, taxing sugary drinks in this manner could reduce soft drink consumption by as much as 8 to 10 percent, which they argue would be enough to slow the so-called obesity epidemic.

Sustain is urging chancellor George Osborne to introduce the duty in his March 20 budget, arguing that, as an extension of current taxes on cigarettes and alcohol that are meant to dissuade the public from buying the products in bulk, a 20p-per-litre levy could be put on larger bottles of fizzy drinks which in turn would serve to go some way toward offsetting the cost to the NHS for treating associated health problems like obesity and diabetes. The report estimates that diet-related illnesses cost the NHS around £6 billion a year.

Charlie Powell, Sustain’s campaigns manager, is quoted as saying that this recommendation is a necessary step that should test the government’s true commitment to public health:  ”Sugar-laden drinks are mini health timebombs, contributing to dental diseases, obesity and a host of life-threatening illnesses which cost the NHS billions each year. We are delighted that so many organisations want to challenge the government to show it has a public health backbone by including a sugary drinks duty in budget 2013.”

Unsurprisingly, the head of The British Soft Drink Association, Gavin Partington, is less thrilled about the idea: “Sixty-one percent of soft drinks now contain no added sugar and we have seen soft drinks companies lead the way in committing to further, voluntary action as part of the government’s Responsibility Deal Calorie Reduction Pledge. … Putting up taxes even further will put pressure on people’s purses at a time when they can ill afford it. It’s worth noting that Denmark recently scrapped such a tax.”

Around 10p out of every 60 pence can of soda is taken by the government for VAT purposes. The alcohol industry may also lobby hard against this change given that much of their trade is underpinned by alcohol laced soft drinks and soda mixed cocktails.

While it is true that Denmark has decided to do away with its soda tax, countries such as Finland, Hungary and France, as well as a few states in the U.S., have employed such taxes, some with promising early starts.

So what are the chances of the UK adopting the levy? The Department of Health appears leery of adopting a legislative approach, favoring instead its “voluntary action” in encouraging businesses to act responsibly through incentives.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has also shown his distaste for a legislative remedy, calling such approaches a “blunt tool.” He believes a better focus would be on how supermarkets market fruit and vegetables.

Sadly, such action alone would seem woefully incapable of even making a dent in Britain’s rising childhood obesity problem. Even though a preemptive tax on sodas might be a hard drink to swallow for many, unless the government can come back with a meaningful alternative, it remains one of only a few serious attempts to solve the problem and as such cannot be easily dismissed.


Related Reading:

Bloomberg Shaking up Soda Pop with Politics

Pepsi Unleashes So-Called ‘Fat Blocking’ Soda on Japan

Yet Another Reason to Avoid Soda: Prostate Cancer

Image credit: Thinkstock.


Jennifer P.
Jennifer P4 years ago

I'd like a similar thing in the States, if the money raised would be specifically for free school lunch programs and physical education funding.

Margaret Allan
Margaret Allan4 years ago

it should be our choice and this wont work, you cannot force people not to do something

Claire M.
Claire M4 years ago

Fantastic idea!! As long as the proceeds were directed towards health initiatives I'd be all for it. There's absolutely zero nutritional value in soda, and tastebuds don't take long to be retrained to prefer healthier alternatives.

Craig Maxwell
Craig Maxwell4 years ago

In my opinion, education is the answer, not more taxes.

Beth M.
Beth M4 years ago

It won't work. Parents will still buy soda because it's still cheaper than a good 100% fruit juice and because it's easy.

Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago


Lisa D.
Lisa D4 years ago

if we are doing it for the kids, by making soft drinks more expensive the majority of kids will simply ask their parents for more money and they will get it..

in my opinion - i think they should just stop serving soft drinks in schools altogether i mean, it does not do any good at all for the kids.. they can all drink milk or water or an even healthier fresh orange juice!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago

Maybe this will work?

Sam M.
Sam E M4 years ago

When did extra taxes stop smokers buying cigarettes or alcohol drinkers from buying their regular bottles or cans? It annoys me when the powers that be decide to add yet more taxes instead of dealing with a problem at the base. It's just another excuse for bringing in more money for the government to spend. The best way would be to greatly reduce the amount of sugar/sweeteners in soda (and other foods and drink) so children don't develop such a taste for sweet stuff in the first place.

Cath S.
Catherine Sanger4 years ago

Adding 7p to a drink isn't going to do anything, how pathetically unrealistic. If you want children to stop eating junk you have to stop giving them pocket money, children will buy anything and everything they can until their pockets are empty, and they will eat and drink it all immediately. they don't regulate what they eat, and parents do not observe all the junk they eat. if you want adults to feed children healthy food you need to rely more on Healthy Start vouchers rather than cash benefits - children rely on their parents for their main meals, if the parents are obese the child doesn't stand a chance, and if the parent fills the cupboards at home with junk the children have no access to healthy food. Last point - lazy people will pick up the £1 microwaveable burger before they pick up the £1 bag of veg that needs boiling. Healthy food is rarely as cheap AND as convenient as ready to eat junk.