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Sugar Tax: Will it work to slow down obesity rate in Ireland. What you need to know.

We’ve heard about it for years but the sugar tax was finally introduced in Ireland last week. Will it actually work? Is there a history of it working? Or is this just another levy put on us by the Government. Actually, there’s enough politics on Social Media, let's just look at whether it will effectively lower consumption of sugary drinks and help with our rising obesity levels.

What is the Sugar Tax?
The sugar tax will add 16c per litre (20c including VAT) to all drinks that have a sugar content between 5-8g per 100ml and 24c (30c including VAT) for drinks over 8g. A sugar tax in Philadelphia resulted in Philadelphians being 40% less likely to drink sugary drinks so there is research done to suggest that it can work. In fact, in America, the consumption of bottled water is close to overtaking “sodas” The price of sugar drinks in Philadelphia went up by roughly up to 20%. Maybe Philadelphia isn't the best place to look for their consumption habits. I wouldn't click on the previous link. You've been warned. Don't do it. Just. Don't. 

So, is the Sugar Tax in Philadelphia working? Well, maybe. It’s still too early to tell. And it may not last either with the legality of the law being taken to the supreme court as well as opposition to the law saying that “tax has driven a stake through the heart of an industry that provided hundreds of family-sustaining blue-collar jobs in manufacturing,”. Damn it, I said this wasn’t going to get political.

Fruit Juices & Lowering Sugar Content
Like Philadelphia, Ireland has not touched most fruit juices that do not have added sugar content. Some of these Juices have nearly 8g per 100ml. However, they are quite expensive already so I don’t believe in the argument that they are used as a cheaper alternative. Dairy products have not been touched either due to their nutritional value. But some sugar content levels per 100ml can be pretty high! For example, chocolate mile has 10.3g of sugar per 100ml, nearly the same as Coca-Cola Classic (10.6g). Alcohol has not been affected by the sugar tax either. I have talked about the content of sugar in alcohol in a previous blog post. The likes of Tescos and Lidi have changed the recipe for their own brand to have less sugar in their drinks and avoid the sugar tax as much as possible. Aldi has also reduced their sugar drinks below 5% which they state "is one of several initiatives we have pursued to make our product range healthier and encourage healthy eating choices". Ribena and Lucozade also changed its formula to incorporate less sugar and the price hike. So if products have changed their recipes to have less sugar in them, that should mean that the sugar tax has already had a positive effect, right? Well, no.

 "High in Protein" but also high in sugar. Damn, it does taste good though!

"High in Protein" but also high in sugar. Damn, it does taste good though!

Artificial Sweeteners
“Diet” drinks are also not affected by the sugar tax. One can assume that artificial sweeteners were added to the likes of Lucozade and Ribena to lower their sugar content while still trying to keep their taste. In a recent study, both sugar and artificial sweeteners were shown to have negative impacts on obesity and diabetes. With the conclusion of the study being that it is unclear whether artificial sweeteners are more harmful than sugar, it shows a huge flaw in the sugar tax that they go untouched. Obesity rates are rising everywhere and Ireland is pretty high on the percentage of obesity with 23% of our population over the age of 15 being categorised as obese. 19% of the average annual spend goes on treat foods. Only one-fifth of that 19% is on drinks (excluding fruit juices, water, alcohol, and dairy).

 Photo: Safefood

Photo: Safefood

Conclusion
What I liked about the Philadelphia levy was that tax went straight towards helping preschool kids. Education on what we should be consuming and money put towards making the population more healthy and active is, idealistically, the long-term solution. America is almost consuming more bottled water than sugar drinks yet 38.2% of them are obese. I’m all for anything that helps tackle our rising obesity levels but I am skeptical of whether this sugar tax will actually benefit if it is viewed as anything more than a small step in the right direction.