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OP40 ‘There is no silver bullet’ how parliamentary debate on the UK soft drinks industry levy changed over time (2014–2020): an applied thematic analysis
  1. Catrin Penn-Jones1,
  2. Emma Lawlor1,
  3. Hannah Forde1,
  4. Tarra Penney2,
  5. Steven Cummins3,
  6. Martin White1
  1. 1Centre for Diet and Activity Research, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2School of Global Health, York University, Toronto, Canada
  3. 3Department of Public Health, Environments and Society, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK


Background Announced in March 2016 and implemented in April 2018, the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) aims to incentivise the reformulation of soft drinks. The SDIL has successfully decreased the amount of sugar in UK soft drinks, and purchased in soft drinks. Consequently, the SDIL has been widely applauded as a policy success. SSB taxation in other countries, however, has not been as successful and in some cases the policy was retracted. We aimed to develop an understanding of why the SDIL was deemed successful by analysing parliamentary debate two years before its announcement until two years post-implementation (2014–2020).

Methods Searches of Hansard were conducted for parliamentary debate transcripts discussing the SDIL across three key time periods: Pre-Announcement (01/01/14–15/03/16), Announcement – Implementation (16/03/16–5/04/18), and Post-Implementation (6/04/18–16/03/20). 218 transcripts containing eligible search terms were identified, and 179 included in the analysis after screening for relevance. Applied thematic analysis was conducted in 5 stages: familiarisation and creation of initial codebooks, independent second coding, codebook finalisation through team consensus, final coding of the dataset to the complete codebook and theme finalisation through team consensus.

Results Common issues raised in discussions across the timeline were: the ring-fencing of SDIL funds for pro-social causes, the scale of the health problems associated with excess sugar consumption, and the role of celebrities in making the SDIL a high profile issue. MPs acknowledged that the SDIL is not a ‘silver bullet’ for obesity prevention: it was positioned as either a ‘good start’ with other interventions required or that other interventions were needed instead. Distinct themes were that, due to early reformulation, the SDIL was discussed as ‘having worked’ one year prior to implementation. This notion persisted until the end of the timeline. These themes will be further refined to identify temporal patterns and trends. Additional results will be submitted before the June 28th deadline.

Population Health Relevance The SDIL is unique: it is a flagship policy for the UK Childhood Obesity Strategy and has cross-party support. Understanding why and how the SDIL made it onto the statutes, and why it was politically successful is vital for using policy instruments to improve population health in future. This work will aid understanding of the parliamentary process surrounding the SDIL, and could provide insight for those wishing to extend the SDIL to other products or implement SSB taxes elsewhere.

  • soft drinks industry levy
  • sugar tax
  • parliament debate

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