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One in five adults say the sugar tax won’t deter them from buying sugary drinks

Published: 06/04/2018

One in five UK adults (21 per cent) say that potentially paying a little bit extra won’t bother them if they want a sugary drink. This is according to survey figures released today by YouGov and Simplyhealth, the experts behind Denplan payment plans. Just over half of the nation (59 per cent) supports the new tax, but a significant number of people would not be deterred by potential price hikes of sugary beverages. In the same survey, 20 per cent of adults admitted they are addicted to sugar.

Nicknamed the ‘sugar tax’, the Soft Drinks Industry Levy is a completely new measure that came into force today. Plans for the tax were announced in the Government’s 2016 budget in response to the nation’s alarming levels of obesity and poor oral health.

The tax primarily targets manufacturers and importers of sugary soft drinks and encourages them to adjust their recipes and reduce the levels of sugar in their drinks, thereby avoiding the tax or paying a lower level. However, consumers could also be affected and be forced to pay more for sugary drinks if manufacturers decide to not reformulate their recipes and pass on the tax to consumers.

Under the new levy, drinks with a sugar content over five but below eight grams per 100ml will see 18p added to the price of the drink per litre, and drinks containing over eight grams of sugar per 100ml will face an increase of 24p per litre. 

“It’s encouraging to see that the majority of people support the new levy and understand the urgent need to address the alarming levels of obesity and poor oral health – particularly those of children - in the UK,” said Henry Clover, chief dental officer at Simplyhealth. “However it’s concerning that one in five people say they would not be deterred by potential price increases of sugary drinks, suggesting that sugary beverages are seen as a staple item in some people’s daily diets. Sugary drinks are a leading cause of tooth decay and acid erosion and offer little to no nutritional value.”

Encouragingly, 53 per cent of respondents in the survey claimed they don’t drink sugary drinks, and 17 per cent would consider choosing less sugary and potentially less expensive options, of which 10 per cent didn’t like the thought of paying extra and 7 per cent who definitely don’t want to pay extra.

“It will be interesting to observe consumer buying behaviour over the next year as well as seeing how many manufacturers have adjusted their recipes,” says Henry. “Reducing access to high sugar drinks options and encouraging people to choose less sugary options is likely to have a positive effect on the nation’s oral health, particularly in children and young adults. Sugary drinks should always be seen as an occasional treat and only drunk as part of a meal. Water and milk are far more tooth-friendly options.”

The survey also revealed that one in four adults (25 per cent) admit to struggling to understand the sugar content on food and drink packaging labels, highlighting that many people may be unwittingly consuming much higher levels of sugar than they realise. Worryingly, amongst these, only 56 per cent of 18-24 year olds knew that honey is a sugar, and only 41 per cent of the same age group knew that molasses, fruit juice concentrates (44 per cent) and maltose (50 per cent) are also types of sugar.

“Confusion over food and drink labelling and a lack of awareness of the recommended daily limits almost certainly contribute to the nation’s high sugar consumption,” says Henry. “It’s important that manufacturers and retailers make it as easy as possible for consumers to know what they’re purchasing and are transparent with their ingredients and labelling. There is also a role for dental teams and other healthcare professionals to help patients understand the effects of a high sugar diet on their health and help them make more informed choices.”

This online survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Simplyhealth. Total sample size was 5,264 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between February 12 and 19, 2018.  The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (age 18+).