What is the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy?
The soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) is a tax on the level of sugar present in soft drinks, introduced as a measure which aimed to tackle childhood obesity in the UK by reducing the levels of sugar consumed in soft drinks.1,2 It is a two-tiered tax on manufacturers and importers of soft drinks in the UK.1 The SDIL aimed to tackle childhood obesity by encouraging soft drink producers to reformulate their products to reduce the sugar content.3 The levy also aimed to encourage importers to choose to import reformulated drinks lower in sugar.3 The SDIL was announced in March 20161 and was implemented in April 2018.
The SDIL includes the following taxes on sugary soft drinks:3
How effective has the SDIL been in reducing sugar consumption?
In March 2021, a new study was released by Pell et al,3 aiming to answer this very question. The study compared data from March 2019 to data from before the SDIL was introduced and aimed to determine whether there were significant changes in the volume purchased and sugar content of soft drinks as a result of the introduction of this legislation.3
Two previous studies have estimated there to have been as much as a 30% reduction in the sugar consumed through drinks included in the levy since it was introduced.4,5
This new study3 used controlled interrupted time series analysis to gain an insight into how the SDIL has affected purchase and consumption of sugar through soft drinks. The study found that the implementation of the SDIL was responsible for “changes in both the volume of, and sugar purchased in, drinks in many categories”.3
When all soft drinks were combined (including those with <5g sugar and therefore exempt from the levy) total volume purchased was not reduced by the SDIL.3 However, across all soft drinks categories combined, sugar decreased by 9.8% (29.5g) per person per household.3 Certain categories, including high tier and low tier soft drinks, experienced significant reductions in volume purchased and sugar content as a result of the SDIL.3
Findings of the study included:
Based on data from Pell et al. (2021)
Conclusions and next steps
It is concerning that the volume of sugar purchased in unlevied drinks increased as a result of the introduction of the SDIL - this is thought to be due to producers altering sugar content to be just below the levy threshold.3 This could potentially be remedied by lowering the threshold of sugar concentration at which soft drinks are included in the SDIL (lowering it below the 5g mark).3,6 The total volume of sugar purchased through soft drinks could also potentially be further decreased by expanding the drinks included in the SDIL, such as to milk-based drinks and other high sugar categories currently exempt from the levy.3,6
Overall, the data presented above indicates that, as a result of the introduction of the SDIL, not only are producers reformulating products to be lower in sugar, but consumers are also purchasing lower sugar alternatives. The fact that overall sales of soft drinks were unchanged, but that levied drinks were significantly reduced in both volumes purchased and sugar content highlights that this legislation could have a significant effect on public health, without detriment to industry.6 This evidence should support the introduction of further regulatory legislation to promote a healthy diet in the UK and Scotland.