A study published in BMJ Open suggests that a 10% tax on sweet snacks could lead to a similar reduction in consumer demand as taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford classified household expenditure on food and drink items into 13 different groups from a nationally representative sample of around 32,000 UK homes. They examined purchasing overall and then compared across low-income, middle-income, and high-income households. The data covered a two-year period in 2012 and 2013 and provided complete details of each sales transaction, in addition to social and demographic information for each household. To estimate the change in purchasing, the researchers applied a specialized tool for studying consumer demand.
The researchers found that adding 10% to the price of chocolate, confectionery, cakes, and cookies may reduce purchases by around 7%. This is a similar outcome to taxing SSBs, where previous research suggests a 10% price rise can reduce purchases by 6%–8%. They also discovered that increasing the price of sweet snacks may have wider effects on purchasing patterns. For example, increasing the price of chocolate snacks was estimated to bring about significant reductions in purchases across most food categories, while a price increase on biscuits showed a potential reduction in the demand for cakes (2.3%) as well as chocolate and confectionery (1.7%).
The potential effects of price increases were greatest in the low-income group. Increasing the price of cookies was linked to a reduction in the purchase of chocolate and confectionery for the low-income group (3% if price increases by 10%). No such reductions for the high-income group were seen. Increasing the price of chocolate and confectionery was estimated to have a similar effect across all income groups.
“It’s impossible to study the direct effects of a tax on snack food on consumer behavior until such policies are introduced, but these estimates show the likely impact of changes in the price,” said co-author Susan Jebb, professor from the University of Oxford. “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."