There is no question sugary fizzy drinks are not good for your health, but is Britain's budget levy really the best way to tackle the obesity epidemic?

UK Chancellor George Osborne had a surprise in his budget speech this week when he announced that a levy on sugary soft drinks will be introduced. There will be two tiers to this sugar tax: one will apply to drinks with sugar content above 5g per 100ml and another to drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.

Drinks below 5g of sugar per 100ml, such as Lucozade Sport will be exempt, as will fruit juices and milk-based drinks such as Frappuccinos.

READ MORE: Britain's Osborne defends new sugar tax following criticism

But this is where things get tricky.

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is sugar tax too hard to swallow?


It seems Coke is a problem but cartons of chocolate milk and sugar-laden fruit juices are not. Neither are syrupy concoctions from your local coffee shop. Nor soft drinks produced by boutique producers. Large blocks of chocolates and donuts are fine. So are Coco Pops and Frosties and, for that matter, the remarkable quantities of sugar buried in Bran Flakes, tomato sauce and many ready-made meals.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is calling on New Zealand to follow Britain's lead. And with 1.2 million obese Kiwis, there is no doubt something drastic needs to happen to address the issue.

Dr Gerhard Sundborn, the founder of pro soft-drink tax group FIZZ, says more than 25% of sugar consumed by children in New Zealand comes from sugary drinks.

“Undoubtedly a tax needs to be part of our solution to address our alarming rate of obesity,” the Auckland University academic says. “The question is not if, but when.”

Fizzy drinks are like liquid candy and some scientists argue sugars in liquid are more harmful than in solid form. So, at first glance, taxing sugary laden drinks might seem like the perfect response to the obesity issue. But surely singling out one market isn't the answer.

Dr Eric Crampton, a researcher at think tank the NZ Initiative, told Fairfax Media "the tax rates that are being discussed for the UK are unlikely to do much for obesity and taxes of a similar magnitude in New Zealand would be similarly ineffective".

"To have substantial effects on consumption taxes would have to be substantially higher and they would have to be structured differently."

He also said people would likely substitute fizzy drinks for other sugar-laden foods if the tax was introduced.

So if you think taxing fizzy drinks is the answer then why stop there? Wouldn't a broad-based tax on sugar itself be far simpler, braver and more effective?

The problem is you are opening Pandora's box - sugar is hidden in so many foods - like yoghurt and all those salad dressings in your fridge - so you don't know where to start or stop.

And what about about fat and salt? Chocolate, lollies and cakes certainly don't help reduce the waistline, but neither does takeout from fast-food restaurants, or a big bag of chips or a pie or burger.

Plus, the reality is that 30 cents added to the price of a bottle of Coke might deter people struggling financially, but those who don't live from one pay cheque to the next won't bat an eyelid.

READ MORE: Sugar tax 'doesn't stack up': Bennett

The more we talk about tax the less we talk self-responsibility. Buying Fanta, Sprite or Coke is a choice and the focus should be on educating children and families about the damaging impact of these foods and also about moderation.

To take this a step further, a warning label could be emblazoned on soda bottles similar to what you see on cigarette packages, minus the graphic images: photographs of young children with rotting teeth could be argue as excessive.

A safety warning like those [proposed in the United States||popup=true] which reads, "drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay", is accurate and honest.

A study in the journal Pediatrics earlier this year found on average 20% of parents were less likely to chose sugar-sweetened beverages for their child if there was a health warning label versus no warning label.

This is obviously not a silver bullet, but going off the evidence it sure could help.


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UK's Osborne cuts spending, taxes sugar