‘The way to tackle obesity is…’ ICBA president on alternatives to sugar tax

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

The UK's sugar tax will apply to beverages but not other food groups. Pic:iStock/OcusFocus
The UK's sugar tax will apply to beverages but not other food groups. Pic:iStock/OcusFocus

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The debate on how to tackle obesity has been thrown fully into the limelight following the announcement of a UK sugar tax on beverages. Jim Goetz, president of the International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA), says singling out beverages risks taking the focus away from “real solutions that help people balance calories from all sources”. 

The UK’s sugar tax​ is due to come into effect in April 2018. The levy will have two bands: one for total sugar content above 5g per 100 ml; and a second band for drinks with more than 8g per 100 ml. For a 330ml sized can, the levy can be expected to equate to 6p ($0.09) or 8p ($0.12).

The UK’s sugar tax will only apply to sugar-sweetened beverages, not to other food categories.

“The tax announcement in the UK was disappointing,” ​Goetz told BeverageDaily. “Beverage is the only category in the food and drink sector in the UK that has consistently reduced sugar intake, and had also agreed to proactively reduce beverage calories by 20% by 2020.

“If you contrast this with the fact that sugar and calorie intake from all other take-home food sectors increasing, it’s difficult to follow the logic of such aggressive measures.”

Goetz says the UK’s move has attracted attention in other countries.

“There has been coverage in many markets, and we have to wonder how much of that is celebrity endorsement and comment, rather than policy analysis,” ​he said.

He adds that the UK tax “wrongly suggests that curtailing consumption of one item in the grocery cart will reduce obesity rates”.

He added: “Beverages are not driving obesity rates – obesity rates have climbed steadily at the same time calories from beverages have declined.”

Information and education

“The way to tackle obesity is to have industry and government working together to provide consumers with the information and education they can use to balance their calories,” ​said Goetz.

Singling out one grocery item that - using the UK example - represents only 6% of total calories in the average diet, will not reduce obesity rates. It will only take the focus away from real solutions that help people balance calories from all sources.”

Goetz outlines examples of other countries and communities to implement a sugar tax – Mexico, Barbados and Berkeley, for example.

“In not one of these cases has there been any correlation between the implementation of the tax and better health outcomes; only increased government revenue, disproportionate burden on the poorest populations, and in many cases job loss in the food and drinks sector,” ​he said.

Jim Goetz

Goetz, who is also president of the Canadian Beverage Association, will be speaking at Zenith International’s Global Soft Drinks Congress (Verona , 26-28 April). He will update delegates on ‘Tax attacks: Alternatives for addressing obesity.’

Those attending will have the opportunity to discuss the evolving debate on health and product innovation around the world.

The conference program includes speakers from the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia including Coca-Cola and Ajegroup.  

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