The epidemic of metabolic illnesses like diabetes and obesity that are leading causes of premature deaths and disabilities all over the world has led to governments toying with the idea of applying a sugar tax on foods and beverages with high sugar content. They are also applying front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling. These measures will encourage people to buy foods with less sugar. Some countries already apply taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as Ireland, France, Chile, South Africa, Mexico and the United Kingdom. In the United States some cities have also implemented SSB taxes such as Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Seattle, Washington. So, if you have a sweet tooth you may have to pay a sugar tax on high sugar drinks and foods.
Canadian Experimental Marketplace Study
In order to test scientifically whether applying taxes and FOP labelling could discourage people from buying foods or beverages high in sugar, salt, trans fats and saturated fats, researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario in Canada carried out an experimental marketplace study on 3584 purchasers age 13 and over. Their research was published May 21, 2019 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Beverages High in Sugar
The biggest concern by most countries are beverages that are high in sugar. There are two main types of beverages that fall into this category:
Sugar-sweetened Beverages (SSBs)
Sugar-sweetened Beverages (SSBs) are those that contain added sugar such as:
- Regular soft drinks
- Sports drinks
- Flavored water
- Fruit drinks
Sugary drinks are based on the definition by the World Health Organization (WHO) as including not only all SSBs with added sugars, but also the sugars that are naturally present in fruit juices, fruit juice concentrates, syrups and honey. This also includes drinks that are 100% fruit juices.
Variations in Policies of Taxation
Some countries exclude from taxation sugar-sweetened milk drinks and most countries exclude 100% fruit juices from being taxed. Some countries include diet beverages for taxation. See our blog post from January 15, 2019 about the association of diet soda with the development of diabetic eye disease.
Method of the Experimental Marketplace Study
The participants were given $5 and photos of 20 beverages and 20 snack foods they could purchase. The participants were also selected by random to one of five front-of-package (FOP) nutrition label conditions:
- No label
- “High in” warning
- Multiple traffic light uses red, yellow and green on the labels.
- Health star rates products according to their level of healthiness
- Nutrition grade
One out of Eight Selections was Chosen to be Purchased
One out of eight selections was chosen and purchased by the participants in the study. They received the product they chose as well as any change from the $5. The foods they purchased had various taxation conditions such as:
- No tax
- 20% tax on sugary drinks
- Tiered tax on SSBs
- Tiered tax on sugary drinks
- No tax
- 20% tax on high-sugar foods
- Tiered tax on high-sugar foods
The “high in” label was the most effective and it encouraged people to buy products with less sugar, less saturated fat and fewer calories from the selection of beverages. From the selection of snack foods the participants bought products with less salt and fewer calories.
The study offers evidence that both sugar taxation and FOP labelling are effective ways to promote the purchasing of healthy beverage and snack food choices. The results also show the importance of applying taxes to 100% fruit juices.
Opposition to Labelling and Taxes by Food Companies
According to co-author of the study David Hammond, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems, the food industry has been lobbying to stop the nutritional labelling of snack foods and beverages.
Choose a Rehab or Long-term Skilled Nursing Facility that Offers a Healthy Cuisine
The Park Crescent Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey offers fine dining with a healthy and delicious cuisine. They also specialize in diabetes monitoring and care.
Since these measures are working in some countries and cities to encourage people to purchase healthier snack food and beverage choices, it will be good if all American cities adopt these practices.