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Sugar tax and better labelling help people make healthier choices, study finds

WATERLOO, Ont., Canada: The debate around sugar and its impact on oral health and general health has led to some important developments. One of the most significant changes currently taking place in some countries is the introduction of better labelling of food and drinks that are high in sugar content, as well as a sugar tax. The impact this is having on the purchasing habits of people has recently been investigated by researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who found it can help people make healthier decisions.

“Governments don’t need to wait to implement these policies; they’re already used in many other parts of the world and are successful in helping people make healthier food choices,” said Rachel Acton, a doctoral student in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the university. “Many people don’t realise that fruit juice can have just as much sugar, or more, as regular pop, and these types of drinks aren’t always included in a tax when evidence shows that maybe they should be.”

In the study, which included more than 3,500 people aged 13 and over, researchers created scenarios where participants could buy products that had different levels of sugar taxes as well as different types of front-of-package labels.  Results showed that, when prices increased because of taxation or packages displayed nutrition labels such as the high-in-sugar label on the front of packs, people bought drinks and snacks with less sugar, sodium, saturated fat and calories.

Co-author Dr David Hammond, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems, said: “Taxes on sugary drinks and better nutrition labels are the types of measures that can help reverse increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease from unhealthy diets. Evidence is particularly important given strong opposition from the industry. Indeed, industry lobbying has delayed and threatens to derail the nutrition labels announced by the federal government more than a year ago.”

According to the researchers, other concepts such as traffic light labelling, which is used in the UK, and the health star ratings that are used in Australia and New Zealand, had some impact on people’s purchases, but to a lesser extent.

The study, titled “Taxes and front-of-package labels improve the healthiness of beverage and snack purchases: A randomized experimental marketplace”, was published on 21 May 2019 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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