Will The Sugar Tax Really Deliver Any Health Benefits?

| January 17, 2017

The UK is due to introduce a levy on the soft drinks industry, from April 2018, linked to the sugar content of the products it markets. The idea behind the move is that cutting sugar intake, particularly by children, will go some way towards stemming the current epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Just before Christmas, the first study to attempt to quantify the benefits of this sugar tax was published.1

An eminent group of Professors of Nutrition, from Oxford, Cambridge and Reading Universities, carried out the study. They looked at the likely impacts of three ways that the soft drinks industry might respond to the levy – by cutting sugar content, by increasing the prices of high-sugar drinks and by using marketing strategies to get consumers to switch to lower-sugar alternatives.

The researchers estimated that reducing sugar content was likely to have the biggest impact. In a best-case scenario, a 30 per cent reduction in the sugar content of all high sugar drinks, and a 15 per cent reduction in that of mid-sugar drinks, could result in 144,000 fewer adults and children with obesity and 19,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes per year, as well as a big reduction in tooth decay.

The government is bound to be delighted by this academic endorsement of its sugar tax policy. But it will probably keep very quiet about the findings of a recent major review that concluded “both artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice are unlikely to be healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages”.2 You see, where the sugar levy study fails is that, although it makes a full analysis of the benefits of lowering sugar content, it doesn’t consider the effects of the artificial sweeteners that will replace it.

As regular readers of The Real Diabetes Truth will know, far from aiding weight loss, artificial sweeteners can sabotage it. In studies, sugar-free diet fizzy drinks have been shown to cause weight gain, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, as I mentioned here. Part of the problem is that artificial sweeteners play havoc with the “friendly” bacteria in our guts, leading to chronic inflammation. But they also affect our brains, leading to changes in eating behaviour, as I shall explain in my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Briggs AD, Mytton OT, Kehlbacher A et al. Health impact assessment of the UK soft drinks industry levy: a comparative risk assessment modelling study. Lancet Public Health. 2016 Dec 16 (Online ahead of print).

2. Imamura F, O’Connor L, Ye Z et al. Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction. Br J Sports Med. 2016; 50(8):496-504.

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