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Consumers divided over the introduction of a Sugar Tax

In recent weeks celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been lobbying the government to implement a Sugar Tax on sugary foods and drinks. Future Thinking, the business intelligence research consultancy, has carried out a survey and analysed the results of over 1700 respondents across the UK, asking whether they would be in favour of this tax.

 Q: Do you think the Government should implement a sugar tax?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don’t know

Context of sugar problem:

  • There has been growing concern about the damaging impact of sugar on health – from the state of people’s teeth to type-2 diabetes and obesity
  • Diabetes UK has warned that the number of people living with diabetes has soared by nearly 60% in the past decade. More than 3.3 million people have some form of the condition, up from 2.1 million in 2005
  • Sugar has been dubbed « empty calories » because it has no nutritional benefit
  • Government advisers recommend no more than 5% of daily calories should come from sugar. That is about 1oz (25g; six or seven teaspoons) for an adult of normal weight every day. For children, it is slightly less. This is equivalent of about six or seven teaspoons of sugar for a normal weight adult. A typical can of fizzy drink contains about nine teaspoons od sugar
  • The limits apply to all sugars added to food, as well as sugar naturally present in syrups and honey
  • It has been estimated a 20% sugar tax could raise up to a £1bn a year


Results highlighted that of the 1704 people taking part in the survey 35% were in favour of the introduction of a sugar tax, 49% of respondents were against the introduction and 16% didn’t know.

The difference in attitudes between males and females was marginal:

  • 38% of males versus 32% of females were in favour of the introduction of a sugar tax
  • 51% of males versus 49% of females were against the introduction of a sugar tax
  • 11% of males versus 19% of females were didn’t know if there should be a sugar tax

There is however a generational split in terms of opinions towards a sugar tax:

Age group Yes – in favour No – against Don’t know
Under 18 27% 46% 27%
18 – 34 32% 46% 22%
35-54 35% 50% 15%
55+ 36% 52% 12%

Results indicate that older generations are more in favour of the introduction of a sugar tax (36% of 55+ compared to 27% of under 18’s). The over 55+’s are also more decisive in terms of forming an opinion with just 12% who didn’t know whether a tax should be introduced, contrasting with 27% of under 18’s.

What does this mean?

Claudia Strauss, Managing Director at Future Thinking comments: “Consumers are clearly unaware as to how a Sugar Tax would be implemented, the types of products it may affect and the impact it could have on their shopping habits. As shown in the Shopper Barometer, since 2008 attitudes towards spending have changed and consumers are now more cautious. If they feel the tax would impact directly on them there may be a negative reaction to an increased spend regardless of the health benefits.

In addition there is still a great deal of confusion when it comes to what constitutes healthy eating. As indicated in the Grocery Eye survey, this extends to the role sugar plays in peoples diets and is compounded by numerous and often contradictory health messages consumers are bombarded with.

Some may also feel that a tax would not contribute to a direct health benefit and feel there is a need for more education to understand what is truly good for us.”

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