The Chocolate Tax: Surcharges on Sweet Foods Could Reduce Consumption 7%, Finds New Study

The Chocolate Tax: Surcharges on Sweet Foods Could Reduce Consumption 7%, Finds New Study
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Taxing sweet snacks such as chocolate and baked confections could lead to reduced consumption, says new research.

The research, published today in the journal BMJ Open, comes out of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford, and found that a ten percent tax on chocolates, confections, cakes, and other sugary treats could lead to a seven percent decrease in consumption, similar to results seen in regions that have soda taxes in effect.

According to the research, sweet treats often contain twice as much sugar as sweetened soft drinks, increasing the risk for diet-related illnesses such as obesity and type-2 diabetes.

“We know that increasing the price of sugar-sweetened beverages is likely to generate a small, but significant, reduction in their purchase,” lead author Professor Richard Smith from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said. “However, there has been little research on the impact that a similar price increase on other sweet foods such as chocolate, confectionery, cakes and biscuits could have on the purchase of sugar. This research suggests that taxing these sweet snacks could bring greater health gains and warrants detailed consideration.”

The research also found that a tax on sweetened foods could have a ripple effect on sales of other foods, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks and non-sweet snacks like chips, which can contribute to obesity.

The study is the first of its kind to look at price increases and how it affects consumer demand for snack foods in different income brackets. The study classified food and drinks into thirteen different groups, comparing purchase habits across low-income, middle-income, and high-income households. The researchers then estimated what a price increase would have on income brackets, noting that the higher the price on sweet snacks, the more likely consumers would be to forego the snacks.

“For example, increasing the price of chocolate snacks was estimated to bring about significant reductions in purchases across most food categories,” the press release notes, “while a price increase on biscuits showed a potential reduction in the demand for cakes (2.3%) as well as chocolate and confectionary (1.7%).”

“It’s impossible to study the direct effects of a tax on snack food on consumer behaviour until such policies are introduced, but these estimates show the likely impact of changes in the price,” said study co-author Professor Susan Jebb from the University of Oxford. “These snacks are high in sugar but often high in fat too and very energy dense, so their consumption can increase the risk of obesity. This 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.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.