New report finds that a salt and sugar tax could have benefits for health and the environment

Girl buying sweets. Credit: Petr Bonek / Shutterstock

Researchers modelling the effects of reducing salt and sugar within food products have found it could reduce overweight and obesity by up to 20%, as well as reducing dietary impacts on the environment.

New research published by the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) research programme and Recipe for Change has found that swapping to lower salt and sugar foods could lead to reductions in people’s daily calorie intake. This could reduce prevalence of overweight and obesity in the UK from 60-65% to 40-45% of the population. In addition, the study has found that swapping to these lower salt and sugar alternatives may result in ‘notable reductions’ in the environmental impact of typical UK diets.

The research used a model that investigated eight high salt and sugar foods – biscuits, crackers, bread, breakfast cereals, confectionary, desserts, savoury snacks and sweet spreads – and swapped them for lower salt and sugar alternatives within the same category. Even small swaps were found to have a notable effect on both healthy weight at a population level and environmental impact outcomes. 

The report has been launched following the 2021 National Food Strategy recommendation for a salt and sugar reformulation tax. The SHEFS report supports the introduction of targeted policies to reduce population consumption of salt and sugar. The researchers conclude that a salt and sugar tax ‘puts the onus on businesses and not on individuals’. However, even substitutions by the consumer to similar but healthier products could still have a positive impact on both population health and the environment.

This report builds on research published by Recipe for Change and conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which explored the potential impacts from sugar and salt reduction for prevention of future cases of key diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardio-vascular disease, as well as the potential long-term economic benefits from associated increases in Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) and cost savings to the NHS. 

Kate Howard, Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator has said:  

'We already know that an industry levy on unhealthy amounts of salt and sugar could have a huge and much-needed impact on the health of the country, so we’re really excited to see this research build on that and show the benefits for the environment too. As the Soft Drinks Industry Levy celebrates its 6th birthday last weekend and we see the impact it’s had on reducing sugary drinks consumption, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Government must take this further and expand it to more food and drinks categories to support both the health of the nation and the planet.'

Published 11 Apr 2024

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