Tax Cookies Not Sodas to Battle Bulging Waistlines, Study Finds

(Bloomberg) -- A tax that moves sweets further out of reach would have more impact on obesity than levies on soft drinks, according to a new study.

Making chocolate bars, cookies and cakes 20% more expensive would reduce U.K. obesity by 2.7 percentage points, according to research published in the British Medical Journal. A similar tax increase on sweetened beverages would deliver only half as much weight benefit, the scientists found.

One in four adults in the U.K. is obese. The nation’s consumers get more sugar from snacks, cakes and cookies than from soft drinks, which helps explain the extra weight loss noted in the study.

“Most economic policies implemented to reduce obesity rates have concerned taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages,” Bernadette Moore and Barbara Fielding, two British nutrition experts, wrote in an accompanying editorial. The study’s novelty “is the suggestion that increasing the price of sugary snacks might be more effective.”

The researchers focused on confectionery, biscuits and cake, and used economic modeling to assess a hypothetical impact on people’s body mass index from the decreased calories consumed. They found the weight-loss impact would be greater on low-income households where obesity is the highest.

The World Health Organization advises taxing unhealthy products to try to halt the obesity epidemic to blame for rising rates of diabetes, fatty liver and heart disease. The Geneva-based body estimates that a stronger focus on nutrition in health services -- including providing advice on limiting sugar and salt intake -- could save 3.7 million lives by 2025.

The U.K. began taxing soft drinks in April 2018, leading some manufacturers to reformulate products to reduce their sugar contents.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.