Anticipatory changes in British household purchases of soft drinks associated with the announcement of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy: A controlled interrupted time series analysis
Pell D., Penney TL., Mytton O., Briggs A., Cummins S., Rayner M., Rutter H., Scarborough P., Sharp SJ., Smith RD., White M., Adams J.
Background Sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption is positively associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization recommends that member states implement effective taxes on SSBs to reduce consumption. The United Kingdom Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) is a two-tiered tax, announced in March 2016 and implemented in April 2018. Drinks with >8 g of sugar per 100 ml (higher levy tier) are taxed at £0.24 per litre, drinks with >5 to <8 g of sugar per 100 ml (lower levy tier) are taxed at £0.18 per litre, and drinks with <5 g sugar per 100 ml (no levy) are not taxed. Milk-based drinks, pure fruit juices, drinks sold as powder, and drinks with >1.2% alcohol by volume are exempt. We aimed to determine if the announcement of the SDIL was associated with anticipatory changes in purchases of soft drinks prior to implementation of the SDIL in April 2018. We explored differences in the volume of and amount of sugar in household purchases of drinks in each levy tier at 2 years post announcement. Methods and findings We used controlled interrupted time series to compare observed changes associated with the announcement of the SDIL to the counterfactual scenario of no announcement. We used data from Kantar Worldpanel, a commercial household purchasing panel with approximately 30,000 British members that includes linked nutritional data on purchases. We conducted separate analyses for drinks liable for the SDIL in the higher, lower, and no-levy tiers controlling with household purchase volumes of toiletries. At 2 years post announcement, there was no difference in volume of or sugar from purchases of higher-levy-tier drinks compared to the counterfactual of no announcement. In contrast, a reversal of the existing upward trend in volume (ml) of and amount of sugar (g) in purchases of lower-levy-tier drinks was seen. These changes led to a −96.1 ml (95% confidence interval [CI] −144.2 to −48.0) reduction in volume and −6.4 g (95% CI −9.8 to −3.1) reduction in sugar purchased in these drinks per household per week. There was a reversal of the existing downward trend in the amount of sugar in household purchases of the no-levy drinks but no change in volume purchased. At 2 years post announcement, these changes led to a 6.1 g (95% CI 3.9–8.2) increase in sugar purchased in these drinks per household per week. There was no evidence that volume of or amount of sugar in purchases of all drinks combined was different from the counterfactual. This is an observational study, and changes other than the SDIL may have been responsible for the results reported. Purchases consumed outside of the home were not accounted for. Conclusions The announcement of the UK SDIL was associated with reductions in volume and sugar purchased in lower-levy-tier drinks before implementation. These were offset by increases in sugar purchased from no-levy drinks. These findings may reflect reformulation of drinks from the lower levy to no-levy tier with removal of some but not all sugar, alongside changes in consumer attitudes and beliefs.