The impact of the UK soft drink industry levy on the soft drink marketplace, 2017–2020: An interrupted time series analysis with comparator series

Madison Luick, Lauren K. Bandy, Richard Harrington, Jayalakshmi Vijayan, Jean Adams, Steven Cummins, Mike Rayner, Nina Rogers, Harry Rutter, Richard Smith, Martin White, Peter Scarborough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background In April 2018, the UK government implemented a levy on soft drinks importers and manufacturers, tiered according to the amount of sugar in drinks. The stated aim was to encourage manufacturers to reduce sugar and portion sizes. Previous evidence suggests that the policy has been successful in reducing sugar in drinks in the short-term since implementation, but their sustained effects have not been explored. This study aimed to assess the impact of the soft drink industry levy (SDIL) on sugar levels, price, portion size and use of non-sugar sweeteners in the medium-term. Methods and findings Product data from 30 November 2017 to 14 March 2020 from one major UK retail supermarket were analysed (112,452 observations, 126 weekly time points). We used interrupted time series analysis, to assess the impact of the soft-drink industry levy (SDIL) on levy-eligible soft drinks, with exempt drinks (i.e. 100% fruit juices, milks, flavoured milks) acting as a comparator series. At the point of implementation of the SDIL (April 2018) there was a step change in the proportion of eligible drinks with sugar content below the SDIL levy threshold (5g per 100ml) (+0.08, 95%CI: +0.04, +0.12), with a similar sized decrease in the proportion in the highest levy category (> = 8g sugar per 100ml) (-0.06, 95%CI: -0.10, -0.03). Between April 2018 and March 2020, the proportion of eligible drinks below the SDIL levy threshold continued to gradually increase (p = 0.003), while those in the highest levy category decreased (p = 0.007). There was a step change in price of eligible drinks in the higher levy category at the point of implementation of +£0.049 (95%CI: +£0.034, +£0.065) per 100mL (for comparison, the levy is set at £0.024 per 100mL for this group). Trends in price for the high levy category were not altered by the SDIL. In the no levy category, there was a step change in price at the implementation (+£0.012 per 100mL, 95%CI: +£0.008, +£0.023), followed by a second step change in October 2018 (-£0.018p per 100mL, 95%CI: -£0.033, -£0.001p). The volume of products in the higher levy group decreased at the time of the implementation (-305mL on average including multipacks, 95%CI: -511, -99). The change in trend for the product volume of drinks in the higher levy group between April 2018 and March 2020 was in the increasing direction (+704mL per year, 95%CI: -95, 1504), but it did not meet our threshold for statistical significance (p = 0.084). There were no changes observed in the volume of lower levy drinks or no levy drinks. There was a step change in the proportion of drinks with non-sugar sweeteners at the implementation of the SDIL (+0.04, 95%CI: +0.02, +0.06). Conclusion These results suggest that the SDIL was successful in [1] producing reductions in sugar levels that were maintained over the medium term up to March 2020 and [2] a reduction in product volume for higher tier drinks that may be diminishing over time. Our results also show that the SDIL was associated with a maintained price differential between high and low sugar drinks.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0301890
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume19
Issue number6
Early online date6 Jun 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.

Data Availability Statement

All relevant data can be accessed using the following information: URL = http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/ora-7jvyok0o8 DOI = 10.5287/ora-7jvyok0o8.

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