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OP08 A discourse network analysis of UK newspaper coverage of the ‘sugar tax’ debate before and after the announcement of the soft drinks industry levy
  1. CH Buckton1,
  2. G Fergie1,
  3. P Leifeld1,
  4. S Hilton2
  1. 1MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK


Background On 6th April 2018, the UK Government introduced the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) as a policy designed to reduce population level sugar consumption and related illnesses. Given that the successful introduction of upstream food and nutrition policies is a highly political enterprise involving multiple interested parties, understanding the complex network of stakeholders seeking to influence such policy decisions is imperative.

Methods Media content analysis was employed to build a dataset of relevant articles from UK national newspapers. These articles were analysed to identify stakeholder agreement or disagreement with defined concept statements. Discourse network analysis enabled us to produce visual representations of the network of stakeholders and coalitions evident in the debate, in the months leading up to and following the announcement of the SDIL (May 2015 to November 2016).

Results Coding identified 3,883 statements made by 214 individuals from 176 organisations, relating to 47 concepts. Network visualisations revealed a complex network of stakeholders with opposing and supporting policy coalitions. Polarisation of stakeholders arose from three key factors: (i) differences in political ideology influencing the acceptability of policy options; (ii) position on a specific policy intervention; and (iii) interpretation of the evidence supporting the policy option. Industry stakeholders appeared less united in the network before the SDIL announcement, compared with the later period. Some key industry actors appeared in the supportive coalition, possibly due to the use of corporate social responsibility rhetoric. Jamie Oliver appeared as a dominant stakeholder, firmly embedded with public health advocates, suggestive of his role as a policy entrepreneur.

Conclusion This study highlights the complexity of the network of stakeholders involved in the public debate on food policies such as sugar tax and the SDIL. Public health advocates seeking to gain support for future upstream regulation to promote population health would benefit from tailoring their communication to take advantage of sources of polarisation. Vocal celebrity policy entrepreneurs may be instrumental to facilitate alignment of stakeholders around a clear ideology.

  • Upstream food policy
  • discourse network analysis
  • soft drinks industry levy

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