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Impact of the UK soft drinks industry levy on health and health inequalities in children and adolescents in England: An interrupted time series analysis and population health modelling study.

PLoS Medicine 2024 March 29
BACKGROUND: The soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) in the United Kingdom has led to a significant reduction in household purchasing of sugar in drinks. In this study, we examined the potential medium- and long-term implications for health and health inequalities among children and adolescents in England.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted a controlled interrupted time series analysis to measure the effects of the SDIL on the amount of sugar per household per week from soft drinks purchased, 19 months post implementation and by index of multiple deprivation (IMD) quintile in England. We modelled the effect of observed sugar reduction on body mass index (BMI), dental caries, and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) in children and adolescents (0 to 17 years) by IMD quintile over the first 10 years following announcement (March 2016) and implementation (April 2018) of the SDIL. Using a lifetable model, we simulated the potential long-term impact of these changes on life expectancy for the current birth cohort and, using regression models with results from the IMD-specific lifetable models, we calculated the impact of the SDIL on the slope index of inequality (SII) in life expectancy. The SDIL was found to have reduced sugar from purchased drinks in England by 15 g/household/week (95% confidence interval: -10.3 to -19.7). The model predicts these reductions in sugar will lead to 3,600 (95% uncertainty interval: 946 to 6,330) fewer dental caries and 64,100 (54,400 to 73,400) fewer children and adolescents classified as overweight or obese, in the first 10 years after implementation. The changes in sugar purchasing and predicted impacts on health are largest for children and adolescents in the most deprived areas (Q1: 11,000 QALYs [8,370 to 14,100] and Q2: 7,760 QALYs [5,730 to 9,970]), while children and adolescents in less deprived areas will likely experience much smaller simulated effects (Q3: -1,830 QALYs [-3,260 to -501], Q4: 652 QALYs [-336 to 1,680], Q5: 1,860 QALYs [929 to 2,890]). If the simulated effects of the SDIL are sustained over the life course, it is predicted there will be a small but significant reduction in slope index of inequality: 0.76% (95% uncertainty interval: -0.9 to -0.62) for females and 0.94% (-1.1 to -0.76) for males.

CONCLUSIONS: We predict that the SDIL will lead to medium-term reductions in dental caries and overweight/obesity, and long-term improvements in life expectancy, with the greatest benefits projected for children and adolescents from more deprived areas. This study provides evidence that the SDIL could narrow health inequalities for children and adolescents in England.

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