The new tax on sugary soft drinks is due to be introduced in the UK in the coming months. Since the tax was announced by the government last year, it’s been welcomed by the majority of health groups who believe it will help to reduce the high levels of obesity.
However, a new survey has now suggested that the levy could have some unintended consequences. Although the tax being introduced to improve the nation’s health, it’s feared that it could lead to a rise in sales of other drinks including alcoholic beverages.
By using a statistical model to predict the future shopping patterns of consumers, the researchers who conducted the study found that it could lead to an increase in sales of both beer and wine. Data was analysed from a range of households with different incomes levels. Over 32,000 households took part in the survey which took into account their food and drink purchases during the year 2012/2013.
When looking at the results, it was clear to the researchers that those from lower incomes households were more likely to purchase high sugar drinks along with spirits. Those with higher incomes purchased higher levels of juice and wine. The number of purchases of other drinks including diet fizzy drinks and milk were also examined.
If the behaviour patterns of consumers follow the predictions made by the researchers, it would mean the increased tax rate of drinks high in sugar could lead to an increase in the sales of juice, diet drinks and lager, which could “act as substitutes.” The researchers also predicted an rise in sales of beer, cider and wine.
Despite these worrying results, there are doubts among health researchers as to their accuracy. For example, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health said that an increase in the price of sugary drinks would be more likely to decrease the sales of alcohol and that they recommend further studies be carried out.
The authors said “Increasing the price of sugar-sweetened beverages has the potential to both decrease and increase the purchase of alcohol, suggesting more nuanced price options across a range of beverages may be more effective than a single tax on high-sugar beverages.”
Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, also commented that “This paper on soft drinks taxes makes many assumptions and whilst it is correct to say costing of other drinks may change, it cannot predict what will happen in reality. Doing nothing is not an option. One has to make a change and then examine consequences, whether good or bad, and learn from this – this is the basis of science and research and continuous improvements in health.”