Patients Will Soon Pay More for Soda in British Hospitals, Thanks to a New Tax

The National Health Service will add a 20 percent tariff to sugar-sweetened beverages sold at its facilities by 2020.
Ward in St Thomas' Hospital in central London; British sodas. (Photos: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters; Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)
Jan 20, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When the Cleveland Clinic, a hospital in Ohio, announced last August that after 20 years, it would longer be home to a McDonald’s franchise, it marked a symbolic victory for public health professionals. If the kind of high-calorie, low-nutrient-value food that’s increasingly blamed on obesity and other diet-related diseases is served at one of the country’s leading hospitals, critics said, how can we possibly hope to fix the epidemic?

Yet, other fast-food options remain at Cleveland Clinic and at hospitals across the country—which may make some champions for closing fast-food establishments in health care facilities jealous of what’s happening in the United Kingdom. On Sunday, Simon Stevens, chief executive of National Health Service England, told The Guardian that the public health system is implementing a 20 percent sugar tax at hundreds of NHS hospitals and local health centers across England by 2020.

“We will be consulting on introducing an NHS sugar tax on various beverages and other sugar-added foods across the NHS, which would be enforced over time as contracts for food catering and the shops that are in the foyers of hospitals come up for renewal over the next three to five years over a rolling basis,” Stevens told The Guardian.

The sugar tax will be the first of its kind in the U.K., where 62 percent of adults are overweight or obese. NHS estimates the 20 percent tax, which will initially apply only to sugary drinks like soda, will bring in between $28 million and $57 million annually. Proceeds will fund programs aimed at improving the health of the service’s 1.3 million employees.

Last October, a study of Mexico’s federal soda tax, the first of its kind, suggested that the law is helping to reduce consumption in the country—which was fatter and drinking more sugary beverages per capita than anywhere else in the world. Researchers found that sales dropped by 12 percent in the first year the tax was implemented.