The introduction of the two-tier tax for the UK soft drink industry in 2018 was associated with an 8% reduction in obesity among girls aged 10-11, with the largest reductions seen among those living in the most deprived areas, according to a new study published Jan. 26 in PLOS Medicine by Nina Rogers of the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, UK, and colleagues.

Childhood obesity in England has risen in recent decades, with around 10% of 4-5 year olds and 20% of 10-11 year olds being obese by 2020. There is strong evidence that the consumption of sugar-containing sweetened drinks increase the risk of obesity and other serious diseases. In April 2018, the UK Soft Drink Industry Levy (SDIL) came into effect to encourage soft drink manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of drinks.

In the new study, researchers used annual repeated cross-sectional data from more than one million children in state-maintained English primary schools. Students aged 4-5 and 10-11 were followed over time between September 2013 and November 2019. The researchers compared obesity levels 19 months after the SDIL with the predicted obesity levels if the SDIL had not taken place, controlling for for each child’s gender and the level of deprivation of their school grounds.

In girls aged 10-11 years, there was an absolute reduction in obesity rates of 1.6 percentage points (95% CI 1.1-2.1), representing a relative reduction in obesity rates of 8%. The largest decreases were seen in girls in the most disadvantaged quintiles, with an absolute reduction of 2.4 percentage points (95% CI 1.6-3.2) in the prevalence of obesity in the most disadvantaged quintile. In boys aged 10-11 years, there was no overall change in obesity rates and no clear pattern of changes related to deprivation, although there was at least an absolute increase in obesity rates of 1.6% (95% CI 0 .7-2.5) was observed. subordinated quintile (equivalent to a relative increase of 10.1%). In younger children, no overall associations were found between SDIL and obesity levels.

“Our findings suggest that the SDIL in the UK has led to positive health effects in the form of reduced obesity levels in girls aged 10-11,” say the authors. “Further strategies are needed to reduce the prevalence of obesity in primary school children in general, and particularly in older boys and younger children.”

Rogers adds, “We have shown for the first time that the levy imposed by the UK soft drink industry has likely helped prevent thousands of children from becoming obese each year.”

Magazine reference

  1. Rogers NT, Cummins S, Forde H, Jones CP, Mytton O, Rutter H, et al. (2023) Associations between trajectories of obesity prevalence in English primary school children and UK soft drink industry levy: a discontinuous time series analysis of surveillance data. PLoS Med 20(1): e1004160. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004160