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UK Study Reports Soda Tax Effective in Reducing Obesity Rate

Update Date: Nov 01, 2013 11:50 AM EDT

Even though taxes are enforced to collect money for the benefit of the people living under the government, taxes can also be used to discourage behaviors. For example, if taxes were raised on certain items, such as cigarettes or alcohol, the extra costs could deter people from buying and consuming these drugs. In a new study conducted by researchers from Oxford University and the University of Reading, the findings suggest that taxing soda could help reduce the obesity rate.

For this study, the research team estimated that a 20 percent tax on soft drinks could lead to a 15 percent reduction in sales. The team reasoned that these consumers would then turn to healthier options, such as milk and orange juice. This reduction in sales could potentially reduce the number of obese adults by 180,000 or 1.3 percent within the UK. The team also reported that this kind of tax would affect people younger than 30 the most, which is extremely important because this group of people tend to drink the most soda.

"Every possible alternative that people would buy is going to be better than a sugary drink," commented one of the study's authors, Mike Rayner. "[The tax] is not a panacea, but it's part of the solution."

Despite having the potential to be effective, the authors acknowledge the fact that implementing a soda tax when the economy is still shaky in the UK might not be the best idea. However, when a more opportune moment comes, a soda tax should really be considered.

 "Sugar-sweetened drinks are known to be bad for health and our research indicates that a 20% tax could result in a meaningful reduction in the number of obese adults in the UK," added study author, Dr. Adam Briggs. "Such a tax is not going to solve obesity by itself, but we have shown it could be an effective public health measure and should be considered alongside other measures to tackle obesity in the UK."

Soft drink taxes are nothing new. Several countries, such as France, Norway, Mexico and some states within the United States have implemented this kind of tax. However, the results have varied suggesting that soda taxes might not work for all communities.

"There's ample evidence to suggest that taxing soft drinks won't curb obesity, not least because its causes are far more complex than this simplistic approach implies. Indeed, the latest official guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence points to the need to look at overall diet and lifestyle," commented Gavin Partington, the director general of the British Soft Drinks Association reported by BBC News. "Trying to blame one set of products is misguided, particularly when they comprise a mere 2% of calories in the average diet."

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.

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