Background: Some governments have recently shown a willingness to introduce taxes on unhealthy foods and drinks. In 2011, the Irish Minister for Health proposed a 10% tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) as a measure to combat childhood obesity. Whilst this proposed tax received considerable support, the Irish Department of Finance requested a Health Impact Assessment of this measure. As part of this assessment we set out to model the impact on obesity.
Methods: We used price elasticity estimates to calculate the effect of a 10% SSB tax on SSB consumption. SSBs were assumed to have an own-price elasticity of -0.9 and we assumed a tax pass-on rate to consumers of 90%. Baseline SSB consumption and obesity prevalence, by age, sex and income-group, for Ireland were taken from the 2007 Survey on Lifestyle and Attitude to Nutrition. A comparative risk assessment model was used to estimate the effect on obesity arising from the predicted change in calorie consumption, both for the whole population and for sub-groups (age, sex, income). Sensitivity analyses were conducted on price-elasticity estimates and tax pass-on rates.
Results: We estimate that a 10% tax on SSBs will result in a mean reduction in energy intake of 2.1 kcal/person/day. After adjustment for self-reported data, the 10% tax is predicted to reduce the percentage of the obese adult population (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 30 kg/m(2)) by 1.3%, equating to 9,900 adults (95% credible intervals: 7,750 to 12,940), and the overweight or obese population (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m(2)) by 0.7%, or 14,380 adults (9,790 to 17,820). Reductions in obesity are similar for men (1.2%) and women (1.3%), and similar for each income group (between 1.1% and 1.4% across income groups). Reductions in obesity are greater in young adults than older adults (e.g. 2.9% in adults aged 18-24 years vs 0.6% in adults aged 65 years and over).
Conclusions: This study suggests that a tax on SSBs in Ireland would have a small but meaningful effect on obesity. While such a tax would be perceived as affecting the whole population, from a health prospective the tax will predominantly affect younger adults who are the main consumers of SSBs.