The UK soft drink industry levy introduced in 2018 may have reduced by 12 per cent the number of children under age 18 having a tooth removed due to tooth decay, suggests research published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
The fall in hospital admissions may have saved more than 5500 hospital admissions for tooth decay alone, and the largest reductions were in children aged up to nine years old.
Sugar-sweetened drinks account for around 30 per cent of the added sugars in the diets of children aged one to three years, and over 50 per cent by late adolescence. In England, nearly 90 per cent of all tooth extractions in young children are due to decay, resulting in around 60,000 missed school days a year.
The World Health Organization has recommended a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks to reduce sugar consumption, which more than 50 countries have implemented.
In March 2016, the UK government announced a soft drink industry levy (‘sugar tax’), which aimed to reduce sugar intake by encouraging drink manufacturers to reformulate their products. The levy was implemented in April 2018.
While the relationship between sugar-sweetened drinks and tooth decay is well established, no studies have used real-world data to examine the relationship between the levy and dental health.
To address this, researchers at the University of Cambridge analysed hospital admissions data for tooth extractions due to tooth decay in children aged 0 to 18 years old in England from January 2014 to February 2020, four years before to almost two years after the levy was introduced. They studied trends overall as well as broken down by neighborhood deprivation and age groups.
Overall, in children aged 18 and under, there was an absolute reduction in hospital admissions of 3.7 per 100,000 population per month compared to the scenario had the soft drink levy not happened. This equated to a relative reduction of 12 per cent.
Based on a population of nearly 13,000,000 children aged 0–18 years in England in 2020, the researchers estimated that the reduction eliminated 5638 admissions for tooth decay.
Reductions in hospital admissions were greatest in younger children aged 0–4 years and 5–9 years, with absolute reductions of 6.5 and 3.3 per 100,000 respectively.
“This is an important finding, given that children aged five to nine are the most likely to be admitted to hospital for tooth extractions under general anaesthesia,” first author Dr Nina Rogers said.
She and her co-researchers concluded their study “provides evidence of possible benefits to children’s health from the UK soft drinks industry levy beyond obesity which it was initially developed to address”.