Snacks tax

Industry responds: Selective tax is not effective in tackling obesity

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Should a tax be placed on sweet snacks to tackle the obesity crisis? Pic: ©GettyImages/CreativaImages
Should a tax be placed on sweet snacks to tackle the obesity crisis? Pic: ©GettyImages/CreativaImages
CAOBISCO – which represents the Chocolate, Biscuits and Confectionery Industries in Europe – has rebuffed a study’s suggestion that placing a tax on sweets snacks could be an effective tool in fighting obesity.

Marina Valverde, secretary general of CAOBISCO told BakeryandSnacks that, while obesity is clearly a global scourge that needs to be resolved, taxing individual food items is unlikely to be effective in tackling it.

Addendum errata

Prof Smith alerted BakeryandSnacks that some erroneous figures were published in the study.

Sentence on page 5 referring to bottom left panel on Figure 1 should say:

“A price increase for chocolate and confectionary items is associated with small but significant decreases across all soft drinks (0.6-0.8% for 10% price increase) as well as biscuits (1.2%), cakes (1.6%) and savoury snacks (0.3%)”

Instead of:

“A price increase for chocolate and confectionary items is associated with small but significant decreases across all soft drinks (0.6-0.8% for 10% price increase) as well as biscuits and cakes (1.2%), and savoury snacks (1.6%)”.

Reviewing the new data, Andrew Curtis, deputy director general of Snacma (the Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers Association) told this site that the potential 0.3% decrease in sales of savory snacks was too minimal to be of real concern.

“Obesity is a result of a multitude of factors and, as such, no single solution such as a tax on individual foods or nutrients is likely to be effective in tackling it, especially when food categories are chosen arbitrarily,”​ she said.

Her comments follow the publication of a UK study that suggests a tax on sweet snacks – like cakes, biscuits, chocolate and confectionery – could lead to a greater reduction in sugar consumption than taxing soft drinks.

According to the authors, these snacks are high in sugar – and often high in fat – so their consumption can increase the risk of obesity.

“[Our] research suggests that extending fiscal policies to include sweet snacks could be an important boost to public health, by reducing purchasing and hence consumption of these foods, particularly in low-income households,​” said lead author Professor Richard Smith from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Valverde, however, noted that experience has shown that – in countries where it has been implemented – selective taxes are not an effective solution in tackling complex diet and lifestyle-related problems.

“By WHO’s own standards, this particular intervention was considered as a weak recommendation,”​ she said.

Valverde also said placing a tax on certain products could have a significant effect on the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, especially small businesses, a view confirmed by the European Commission in 2014.

The EC’s report on Food taxes and their impact on the competitiveness of the agri-food sector​ noted that taxes on certain products could reduce their consumption, but not necessarily consumption of the targeted ingredients.

CAOBISCO’s secretary general also said the people to be hardest hit by the tax would be low-income consumers.

“We believe that food taxes are deeply regressive as they hit hardest low-income consumers that usually spend a higher percentage of their income on the weekly food shop,”​ said Valverde.

Joint effort

Valverde said multiple stakeholder actions are necessary to tackle obesity.

“Official nutritional recommendations are based on broad scientific evidence. They state that individual foodstuffs do not advance or weaken public health but the entire diet is what matters. Substitution effects are inevitable when legislators pick on a few food categories without approaching diets as a whole. Part of the consumption is likely to be substituted with an alternative, which could be healthier or less healthy.

"A range of measures that encourage and empower individuals to make the required behavioural changes will be necessary. These measures needs to systematic, not only aiming for an immediate impact on the net energy balance, but also making sure that change is sustained,"​ she said.

Prof Smith told BakeryandSnacks “at the moment, there is no ‘tax’ proposed to be implemented as discussed in the paper – there is obviously the SDIL (soft drinks industry levy) that has now been implemented, and separately we are evaluating this with a team from our School and Cambridge/Oxford funded by NIHR.

“In this instance, it is suggesting that a price change of the sort of range that others have advocated for a tax on SSB (sugar-sweetened beverages) may well have a larger effect on overall purchasing of sugar and so if tax is a policy option in general for health reasons then this sort of thing needs considering,”​ he said.

In the study – published in BMJ Open – the UK researchers estimated that adding 10% to the price of the sugar-laden foods would reduce their sales by around 7%.

The authors found that raising the price of biscuits could potentially reduce the sales of cakes by 2.3%, and chocolate and confectionery by 1.7%, while a price increase on chocolate snacks could result in a sales decrease across several food categories, including 1.2% in biscuits, 1.6% in cake-type snacks and 0.3% in savory snacks.

The study (using Kantar Worldpanel data) analyzed the purchases of over 32,000 households in Great Britain between 2012 and 2013 and found that twice the amount of sugar was consumed in sweet snacks (17.1g) than sugar-sweetened beverages (6.9g). This occurred across all income groups, but more so among lower-income households.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Policy Research Programme, is the first to provide a direct analysis of the relationship between price increases and consumer demand for snack foods across different income groups.

The authors said the study was observational and they could not explain why consumers changed their buying behaviour.

Prof Smith said the researchers were continuing with a range of analyses using Kantar Worldpanel data to explore price elasticity and it effects and would possibly publish more studies later this calendar year.


Are sweet snacks more sensitive to price increases than sugar-sweetened beverages: analysis of British food purchase data

Authors: Richard D Smith, Laura Cornelsen, Diana Quirmbach, Susan A Jebb, Theresa M Marteau.

BMJ Open. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019788)

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