Sugar tax won’t help the overweight, poll finds

While the introduction of a sugar tax is looking increasingly likely, a poll of slimmers suggests that it will have minimal impact on overweight people’s food and drink choices.

More than eight out of 10 slimmers (84%) do not believe that a sugar tax would have helped them to make healthier choices at their heaviest and only one in 25 (4%) believe it would be the best way to help people cut down on sugar, the Slimming World poll revealed.

Slimming World was testing measures put forward by Public Health England in their recent sugar report* and found that while there was wide support for healthier food in hospitals and leisure centres (62%), reformulation of everyday food and drinks (60%) and fewer special offers on unhealthy food (54%), the proposed sugar tax was thought to be the least likely to succeed by the 1,254 respondents, with only 16% voting for it.

However, while few slimmers believed that a sugar tax would have had a positive impact on them, 64% said they would support it if the money raised was spent on helping people to improve their health. The most popular uses for money raised through a sugar tax would be subsidising the cost of fruit and vegetables (56%), improving NHS services (43%) and increasing the availability of healthy school meals (31%).

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition and Research for Slimming World, says: “High sugar food and drink is often relatively cheap, easily available and heavily advertised. It can certainly contribute to people’s weight struggles and our poll showed that nine out of 10 slimmers (92%) would support some of the measures suggested to help people cut down.

“In recent months there has been so much focus on the sugar tax that other recommendations to reduce sugar intake have almost been forgotten. Obesity is not going to be solved by a sugar tax alone though, it’s far too complex an issue for that.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition & Research
Obesity is not going to be solved by a sugar tax alone, it’s far too complex an issue for that.
Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition & Research

“We need a whole range of public health measures to create the healthy environment that society both wants and needs. We need to make it easier and more desirable for people to make healthy choices with food and activity and many of the measures suggested by Public Health England would support that, not just the sugar tax.

“However, we also need to give people the knowledge, tools and confidence to make healthier choices for themselves, so that they feel able to take personal responsibility for their lifestyles. Our research shows that when people are given the right information and support they do make healthier choices, even in an environment that is geared towards encouraging the opposite. Our poll showed that nine out of 10 Slimming World members have reduced their sugar intake through making changes like basing their eating around healthy, filling foods like fruit and vegetables, pasta, potatoes, fish and lean meat, reducing how much sweet food they have and swapping sugar for sweetener.

“Introducing a sugar tax in isolation won’t have as significant an impact as putting a whole range of public health and education measures into place. As our member poll suggests, to tackle obesity successfully we need a much broader strategy and raft of policies than simply taxing sugar.”

Slimming World’s poll was conducted to mark the start of its ‘Free Food February’ campaign, which celebrates healthy foods that Slimming World members can eat ‘freely’ without counting, weighing or measuring, while still losing weight. They include fruit and vegetables, pasta, potatoes, rice, eggs, beans, pulses, fish, poultry and lean meat.

* Sugar reduction: the evidence for action – Public Health England - October 2015

The below table lists Public Health England’s eight recommendations to reduce sugar intake and the proportion of Slimming World members who said that this would have helped them to reduce their sugar intake before they lost weight.

Public Health England recommendations to help the population reduce its sugar intake

% of Slimming World members who feel that this would have helped them to cut their sugar intake

1.More healthy food available in public buildings like leisure centres and hospitals


2.A reduction in the amount of sugar in everyday food and drink products


3.Fewer special offers on unhealthy food and more offers on healthy food


4.Regulations to make it clear what counts as a high sugar product – to inform restrictions on social offers and advertising


5.Diet and nutrition training for people who influence food choices (e.g. catering, entertainment and fitness industry employees)


6.Government programmes that raise awareness of the dangers of sugar and provide advice on how people can reduce their intake


7.Less advertising of high sugar products (including online and in sponsorship)


8.A 10-20% sugar tax on high sugar products


None of the above



Notes to Editors

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. There are now more than 18,000 groups held weekly across the UK and Republic of Ireland via a network of 4,000 community-based Slimming World Consultants, who receive specific training in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as sophisticated behaviour-change techniques.

Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of satiety and energy density. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by overweight people and a recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating behaviour change in a warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit www.slimmingworld.co.uk or call 0344 897 8000.

For the Press Office please email public.relations@slimmingworld.co.uk