High sugar consumption is associated with widespread adverse health effects and costs billions to the healthcare system. According to a current study, a tax on sugary soft drinks could significantly reduce the risk of illness and save up to 16 billion euros.
In a recent study, an international team including researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) analyzed what effects the introduction of a so-called sugar tax would have in Central Europe. The study results are published in the specialist magazine “PLOS Medicine”.
Too much sugar intake
On average, Germans consume almost twice the maximum sugar intake recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) every day. Sweetened drinks play an important role here, but other foods also often contain added sugar.
Various previous studies have already shown how added sugar harms the body. Sugar can promote inflammatory processes in the body and excessive sugar consumption is associated with, among other things, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Given the health consequences, the World Health Organization is recommending that governments around the world tax sugar-sweetened beverages, and some countries have already introduced taxes or levies on soft drinks. Two different approaches can be distinguished.
Different approaches to sugar tax
A levy can be set based on the amount of sugar in the soft drinks, as is the case in Great Britain, for example, or a general tax can be levied on soft drinks – regardless of the sugar content, the researchers explain.
The results from international studies show that the latter variant primarily leads to a reduced demand for soft drinks, while the former variant can also lead to changes in recipes to reduce sugar in the soft drinks, the experts continue.
In this country, however, the beverage industry has so far relied on a voluntary commitment, with a team led by Professor Dr. Michael Laxy from TUM published a study at the beginning of this year in which it became clear that this approach has not yet achieved the hoped-for success.
Impact of sugar tax calculated
In the new study, the researchers therefore calculated what effects the introduction of different taxes on sugary drinks would have in Central Europe. “We were equally interested in short- and long-term effects,” says Professor Laxy.
The team simulated how the most common international taxation approaches would play out over the period 2023 to 2043. According to the researchers, data on individual nutrition, diseases such as diabetes, health risk factors and official population statistics were also taken into account in the calculation model for German society.
However, only people aged 30 and over were taken into account, as most of the modeled diseases occur primarily in the second half of life, explains the team.
Reduction in sugar consumption can be achieved
According to the calculations, a flat 20 percent surcharge on soft drink prices would reduce sugar consumption by one gram per person per day, the researchers report. If we only look at men between the ages of 30 and 49, it is almost three grams.
The second approach of taxing the sugar content in drinks could have an even greater impact. A reduction in sugar in the recipes by 30 percent can be expected here and less sugar in the drinks would reduce per capita consumption by 2.3 grams per day – or by 6.1 grams for men between the ages of 30 and 30 49 years.
According to the researchers, both taxation models would lead to significantly fewer cases of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. “The numbers for type 2 diabetes are particularly impressive,” emphasizes first author Karl Emmert-Fees from TUM.
“According to our models, taxation would cause up to 244,100 people to develop type 2 diabetes later or not at all within the next 20 years,” continued Emmert-Fees.
Savings of up to 16 billion euros
In principle, if there was a tax on sweetened drinks, fewer treatments would be required, the costs of sick days would fall and the number of cases of incapacity to work would also fall.
With a staggered manufacturer levy, economic savings of around 16 billion euros could be achieved, including around four billion euros in health costs, the researchers report. With a 20 percent tax, the total would still be around 9.5 billion euros.
An average reduction in sugar consumption of a few grams per capita does not seem like much, especially since statistically an average of around 95 grams of sugar is consumed per capita per day in Central Europe.
However, according to the experts, it should be borne in mind that there are large differences in the consumption of soft drinks among the population and while some people drink large quantities, others practically never drink soft drinks.
“The reduction in sugar consumption would be correspondingly greater for people who consume a lot of soft drinks,” emphasizes Professor Dr. Michael Laxy from TUM.
Since only people over the age of 30 were taken into account in the calculations, but soft drink consumption is highest among teenagers, the average reduction in sugar consumption that can actually be achieved could be even more drastic and the positive health benefits could be even greater.
Information campaigns are not sufficient
The researchers come to the conclusion that a levy or tax on sweetened drinks is a relevant measure for preventing obesity, diabetes and heart disease, while other approaches such as information campaigns have their justification, but are not sufficient to have a corresponding effect . (fp)