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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Barts and The London

Soft drinks’ sugar content successfully reduced following introduction of sugar tax

A survey comparing sugar content in 83 carbonated sugar-sweetened soft drinks before and after the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy has found a mean sugar decrease of 42%.

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The results, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, compared the sugar and energy labels of soft drinks in 2018, after the implementation of a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the same product labels in 2014. Researchers from the Wolfson Institute’s Action on Sugar group obtained data from 166 products in 2014 and 464 products in 2018, of which 83 products were the same in both years.

The mean sugar content of the 83 products decreased by 42% between 2014 and 2018, from 9.1 to 5.3 g/100 mL. The mean energy content decreased by 40%, from 38 kcal/100 ml in 2014 to 23 kcal/100 ml in 2018.

The significant decreases in the sugar and energy content after the levy came into effect suggest that this tax has been effective. The sugar content of drinks still varied considerably in 2018, suggesting that further reductions in the sugar content of these drinks is possible.

The authors are calling for the levy thresholds to be reduced and the tax increased, to drive further reformulation of soft drinks to reduce their sugar content.

Kawther M Hashema, Feng J He & Graham A MacGregor. Labelling changes in response to a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Bull World Health Organ 2019;97:818–827.