The sugar content of soft drinks has undergone a “striking” reduction since the introduction of a so-called sin tax, researchers have found. Drinks manufacturers have cut the amount of sugar in their products since the levy of between 18p and 24p a litre was introduced in April 2018.


The Oxford University research, published in BMC Medicine, claims there has been a 29 per cent reduction in the total amount of sugar sold in soft drinks in the UK between 2015 and 2018. Researchers looked at the nutritional information on a range of soft drinks, including carbonated drinks, juice drinks and energy drinks, and combined their findings with sales data from 2015-2018.

The UK’s two biggest soft drinks companies, Coca-Cola and Britvic, reduced the average amount of sugar in their drinks by 17 per cent and 26 per cent respectively; however, the sugar content of their flagship products, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, remained unchanged.

The data revealed that 73 per cent of the sugar reduction was due to reformulation of existing products or the introduction of new, lower sugar drinks, while 27 per cent was due to changes in consumer purchasing behaviour. Lead researcher Lauren Bandy said the figures were “striking”.

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“It is encouraging to see such a large reduction in sugars sold in soft drinks,” Ms Bandy said. This is largely a result of change in the composition of drinks but there have also been shifts in consumer purchasing behaviour, with more consumers choosing drinks with low, or no, sugar content.

“They show that it is possible for improvements in public health to be consistent with successful business practices.”

Co-author Susan Jebb said she hoped the results would encourage more of the food industry to adopt healthier practices. “National and international governments are calling for change in the food industry to improve public health,” she said.


“This new method allows researchers to monitor the progress being made and to make this information available to the public. This external scrutiny will hopefully encourage more positive and rapid action by the food industry to achieve healthier diets.”

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Ultra-processed food and the risk of death: will fish fingers and fizzy drinks kill you?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the latest health research published in a respectable journal must be reported in dramatic and anxiety-inducing language.

Some recent studies into ultra-processed foods (like fish fingers, fizzy drinks and ready meals), made for alarming headlines. The Sun, for example, told us that ‘just 4 portions of processed food a day could kill you’, while the Telegraph highlighted that ultra-processed foods ‘could increase the risk of early death by 60 per cent.

As is often the case, the research being reported is well-designed, thorough and cautious. What’s more, the news coverage is not exactly false. The problem is that the numbers driving the headlines are difficult to interpret, and often seem more frightening than they really are.


Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.