Sugar levy brings fall in hospital admissions, yet sugar in products still high across UK

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Hospital admissions have fallen due to the UK soft drinks levy, the BMJ study suggested. Image Source: bymuratdeniz/Getty Images
Hospital admissions have fallen due to the UK soft drinks levy, the BMJ study suggested. Image Source: bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

Related tags Sugar tooth decay

The UK’s soft drinks levy is responsible for a 5,500 fall in hospital admissions for tooth decay, according to research published by the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

The UK’s soft drinks levy, according to a range of research, has been very successful. Introduced in 2018, the levy is imposed on soft drinks manufacturers for drinks with more than 5g of sugar per litre (18p per litre for drinks with 5g of sugar per 100ml, and 24p per litre for drinks with 8g per 100ml and above). In 2021, a study​ showed that it is responsible for a reduction of nearly 6,500 calories each year per UK resident.

Now, new research from the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health also suggests that it may be responsible for a substantial fall in hospital admissions, around 5,500 connected to tooth decay alone.

The research focused on under 18s, whose hospital admissions for tooth decaywere, according to the study, reduced by 12% by the levy, which amounted to around 5,638 admissions. Around 90% of tooth extractions in young children in England are linked to tooth decay, which results in 60,000 missed school days each year.

The researchers analysed hospital admissions data between January 2014 and February 2020, which revealed a change between before and after the levy was introduced. However, there was no comparable control group, and as an observational study causality can’t be definitively established.

High sugar on the high street

While the BMJ research shows the likely success of the sugary drinks levy,  research suggests sugar content is still too high in food and drink on the high street.

A product survey by the campaign group Action for Sugar has revealed that more than a third of sweet food and drink products sold in UK coffee shops exceed an adult’s daily limit of sugar (30g of free sugars), with one product combination amounting to 157g, or 39 teaspoons, of sugar.

According to the research, 782 sweet food and drink products in nine leading coffee shops labelled its sugar content ‘insufficiently'. If they were to be labelled, more than half would be marked ‘red’, which means high in total sugars, according to the UK’s traffic light nutritional labelling system. Only one product surveyed, Greggs’ ‘All Butter Croissant’, was low in sugar.

According to Action for Sugar, a single visit to a coffee shop could see a person consuming 1,390 calories, or 39 teaspoons, worth of sugar.

As mentioned, tooth decay is a significant problem in the UK, and not just for under 18s. One in three adults between the ages of 25 and 34 in the UK experience untreated tooth decay.


Sourced From: BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health
'Estimated impact of the UK soft drinks industry levy on childhood hospital admissions for carious tooth extractions: interrupted time series analysis’
Published on: 17 November 2023
Doi: doi:10.1136/bmjnph-2023-000714
Authors: N.Trivedy Rogers, D. I Conway2, O. Mytton, C. H. Roberts, M. White, and J. Adams1

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