Teens in the U.K. manage to glug down an entire bathtub full of sugary drinks every year. It gets worse: even 4-10 year olds slurp half that amount annually. The figures come from Cancer Research U.K., and show that Brits are eating and drinking far more sugar than is healthy.
Adults and young kids, for instance, are consuming double the recommended amount of sugar, while 11-18 year olds are putting away three times the recommended maximum. When you remember that obese children are five times more likely to become obese adults, these figures are as chilling as a delicious cold Coke on a hot day. If these worrying trends continue, says Cancer Research’s new report, obesity levels in the U.K. could grow from the current 29% to 34%. The answer? Tax those sugary drinks.
Adding a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could reduce the number of obese people by 3.7 million over the next 10 years, while also saving a fortune in health care, which in the U.K. is provided by the National Health Service.
According to the report, the U.K. recommendations for sugar intake have recently been halved, and the official line was that sugary drink consumption should be minimized for young children. Because sugary drinks are teenagers’ biggest source of added sugar, taxing them could have a strong and immediate effect on sugar intake.
The British public is already behind such a tax, and back in March, the U.K.’s then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne set out detailed plans for a sugary drink tax that that was expected to raise around $744 million, increasing the cost of a half-gallon bottle by up to 80%. The tax went live in August this year.
To find out how effective a sugar tax can be, Cancer Research looked at similar taxes around the world. In Mexico, an anti-obesity sugar tax collected $924 million in 2014, and some of that revenue has been used to provide free drinking water in schools. Sales of sugary drinks have dropped by 12%.
In France, a tax levied on manufacturers, importers, and food sellers has raised $332 million since 2012, and led to an immediate drop in sales after years of growth.
Even a tax on drinks that is intended solely to make money can have an effect. In Finland, all non-alcoholic beverages are taxed, with sugary drinks being taxed more. The country has managed to raise $179 million, and although the government hasn’t bothered to check the effect on sales, anecdotal reports say they have dropped.
Cancer Research, then, is happy with the U.K.’s new sugary-drink tax, but sees its success as incentive to tax yet more unhealthy foods. “The government can do more to give the next generation a better chance, by closing the loop hole on junk food advertising on TV before the 9 p.m. watershed [the cutoff when kids are in bed and adult TV can commence],” said Cancer Research director of prevention Alison Cox in a statement. “The U.K. has an epidemic on its hands, and needs to act now.”