Updated 09 September 2019

Could a 'snack tax' work better than the tax on sugary drinks to curb obesity?

Sugary drinks may not be the biggest culprit in obesity - research suggests that a tax on sugary snacks may be even better.

If you don’t indulge in fizzy drinks but love your chocolate bar, you might want to continue reading.

As we know, a tax on sugary drinks has been implemented in South Africa to help fight obesity levels. But new research suggests that there is a measure that may be even more effective.

A 'snack tax'

A new study in The BMJ stated that taxing high sugar snacks such as biscuits, cakes and sweets might be more effective at curbing growing obesity rates worldwide, according to a news report.

According to this study, in the UK, high sugar snacks add more to the national sugar intake than sugary drinks. Therefore, reducing the purchase of these goods may make a bigger impact on the population's health.

While currently there is no new research on figures in South Africa, the study focused on food purchase data for 36 324 UK households and National Diet and Nutrition Survey Data for 2 544 adults.

Results were grouped by household income and body mass index (BMI) to determine any changes in weight and prevalence of obesity during the course of a year.  

The results suggest that for all income groups combined, increasing the price of biscuits, cakes, chocolates, and sweets by 20% would reduce annual average energy intake by around 8 900 calories per person, leading to an average weight loss of 1.3kg over one year, stated the news report.

Compared to sugary snacks, a similar price increase of sugary drinks would only result in an average weight loss of 203g.

"The results also suggest that price increases in high sugar snacks could also make an important contribution to reducing health inequalities driven by diet related disease," the study concluded.

Is this a definite solution?

Of course it’s important to point out study limitations such as the short time frame, but researchers indicate that there is strong rationale to use fiscal policy to help improve diet and health.

There is also still the argument that a fiscal policy might be useful, but doesn’t help to incentivise healthy eating habits any further.

Cut your sugar

While this is still merely a research suggestion, viewing sugary snacks as a treat, instead of a household staple, and consuming these in moderation is the first step to a balanced diet and a reduced sugar intake.

Our dietitians at Nutritional Solutions acknowledge that your body needs natural sugars to provide much-needed energy, but also add that you should be wary of processed, packaged snacks.

“We are often unaware of the sugar content of foods as it is added to many processed foods such as sauces, breakfast cereals, health and energy bars, yoghurt, milky drinks, instant coffee, flavoured coffee sachets and rusks,” says Ria Catsicas, a registered dietitian at Nutritional Solutions.

But limiting your sugar doesn’t need to be hard – start with adopting a healthy, balanced diet to keep you full and avoid cravings for sugary snacks. Read this article for more information.

Image credit: iStock


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