The sugary drinks tax may have prevented more than 5,000 young girls from becoming obese, new research suggests.
A study from the University of Cambridge found that the introduction of the levy in April 2018 coincided with an eight per cent drop in obesity levels in Year Six girls, rising to nine per cent in girls from deprived areas.
Researchers from the university’s Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit tracked changes in obesity levels among children in England in reception year and Year Six, between 2014 and 2020.
Although there was a clear drop in obesity levels for girls, the research found no significant association between the levy and obesity levels in year six boys or younger children from reception class.
Improvement in deprived areas
Prof Jean Adams, the study’s senior author, said: “We know that consuming too many sugary drinks contributes to obesity and that the UK soft drinks levy led to a drop in the amount of sugar in soft drinks available in the UK. So it makes sense that we also see a drop in cases of obesity, although we only found this in girls.
“Children from more deprived backgrounds tend to consume the largest amount of sugary drinks, and it was among girls in this group that we saw the biggest change.”
In England, one in 10 reception-age children, aged 4 to 5, is living with obesity and this figure doubles to one in five children in Year Six, those aged 10 and 11.
Children who are obese are more likely to suffer from serious health problems, including high blood pressure, Type II diabetes and depression, in childhood and in later life.
In the UK, young people consume significantly more added sugars than is recommended. By late adolescence, they typically consume 70g of added sugar per day, more than double the recommended amount, 30g. A large source of this is sugar-sweetened drinks.
Health risks in later life
Dr Nina Rogers, the study’s first author, said: “We urgently need to find ways to tackle the increasing numbers of children living with obesity. Otherwise, we risk our children growing up to face significant health problems.
“That was one reason why the UK’s soft drinks industry levy was introduced, and the evidence so far is promising. We’ve shown for the first time that it is likely to have helped prevent thousands of children each year becoming obese.
“It isn’t a straightforward picture, though, as it was mainly older girls who benefited. But the fact that we saw the biggest difference among girls from areas of high deprivation is important and is a step towards reducing the health inequalities they face.”
The research was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.