The Soft Drinks Industry Levy takes effect today in England, and dental organizations across the country are calling it a victory for oral health. The levy taxes soft drink manufacturers 18 pence per liter for drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 ml and 24 pence per liter for those above 8 grams per 100 ml. However, these groups also caution that more work needs to be done to fight tooth decay as the numbers of tooth extractions remains alarming.
Public Health England (PHE) reports that a child has a tooth removed every 10 minutes in England due to preventable tooth decay. That’s 141 children a day, including some children as young as a year old. Tooth extraction remains the most common cause of hospital admissions among children between the ages of 5 and 9, PHE notes, with about 60,000 days missed from school each year in addition to problems with eating, sleeping, and smiling.
A 500-ml energy drink includes 13 cubes of sugar on average, according to the PHE, while a 330-ml can of soda has 9 cubes of sugar. A 200-ml juice pouch has an average of 5 cubes of sugar. While the tax was drafted to discourage consumption of these types of beverages and prevent the decay that may follow, the PHE encourages parents to choose low-sugar or no-sugar alternatives such as water and low-fat milk for their children.
“It’s upsetting to see so many children admitted to hospital with tooth decay, but swapping out sugary drinks could be an easy win for busy families,” said Dr. Sandra White, dental lead for PHE. “Parents can also help prevent decay by making sure their children’s teeth are brushed twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and reducing how much sugar they’re eating and drinking.”
“British adults consume three times as much sugar as we should be, and drinks remain our children’s biggest dietary source of sugar. While the latest official figures on hospital admissions of children for tooth extraction are cause enough for concern, they are only the tip of the iceberg, as tooth decay affects millions and the vast majority of treatment for this almost entirely preventable disease takes place in general practice,” said Dr. Mick Horton, dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice (FGDP(UK)).
“The sugar tax is a game-changer that will reinforce the message that diet is of critical importance to oral and wider health, and dentists will be delighted to finally see it in effect. Hitting the manufacturers where it hurts has already proved effective, and having to pay extra for the highest sugar drinks should also persuade more consumers to make healthier choices,” Horton said.
The FGDP(UK) notes that beverage companies have reformulated many of their products to include less sugar since the levy was proposed, removing 45 million kilograms of sugar from annual drink consumption in the United Kingdom. As a result, the United Kingdom’s Treasury has had to revise the total anticipated revenue from the levy by more than half.
The revenue raised by the levy will be allocated to schools in England to pay for physical education facilities, afterschool activities, and healthy eating initiatives including school breakfast clubs, with a goal of reducing obesity as well as tooth decay. Devolved administrations will receive money from the levy through the standard calculation used to determine tax revenue distribution between the nations.
Tooth decay also costs the National Health Service £3.4 billion a year, according to the FGDP(UK), which says the £240 million that the levy will raise should be spent on promoting oral health. The FGDP(UK) further says that the levy should be extended to milk-based drinks and is calling for further restrictions on the marketing and price promotion of high-sugar foods and drinks.
Similarly, the British Dental Association (BDA), the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD), and the Oral Health Foundation also support the levy but want to see the funds it raises used towards expanded oral health focusing on education and prevention, in addition to restrictions on the marketing, availability, and pricing of sports drinks and other sugary beverages.
“There has already been product reformulation so industry can reduce the amount of tax it must pay. Nevertheless, as of next week, the Treasury’s income from the sugar levy will be significant, and we would like to see that money dedicated to improving children’s oral health through a range of preventive measures,” said Claire Stevens, BSPD president.
“We would like to see clearer labelling of food and drink products and greater investment in advice and information to families on nutrition. A range of ongoing measures is the only way to reduce the burden of dental decay in children and young people,” Stevens said.
“We do not feel the sugar tax, which comes into effect today, does enough to address the current oral health crisis we’re experiencing in England. It fails to address the issue of excessive sugar in fruit juices, milk-based drinks, and multi-packs and also does not generate any funds to improve oral health education in the UK,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.
“Furthermore, we should be building on programs across the UK that have been highly successful in reducing levels of childhood tooth decay,” Carter said. “Designed to Smile in Wales and Childsmile in Scotland have both demonstrated the importance and necessity of engaging young people in oral health. It is long overdue that England too has its own fully funded system to improve child oral health.”