The palatability of sugar-sweetened beverage taxation: A content analysis of newspaper coverage of the UK sugar debate

Buckton, C. , Patterson, C. , Hyseni, L., Katikireddi, S. , Lloyd-Williams, F., Elliott-Green, A., Capewell, S. and Hilton, S. (2018) The palatability of sugar-sweetened beverage taxation: A content analysis of newspaper coverage of the UK sugar debate. PLoS ONE, 13(12), e0207576. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0207576) (PMID:30517133) (PMCID:PMC6281206)

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Background: Excess sugar consumption, including sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), contributes to a variety of negative health outcomes, particularly for young people. The mass media play a powerful role in influencing public and policy-makers’ perceptions of public health issues and their solutions. We analysed how sugar and SSB policy debates were presented in UK newspapers at a time of heightened awareness and following the announcement of the UK Government’s soft drinks industry levy (SDIL), to inform future public health advocacy. Methods and Findings: We carried out quantitative content analysis of articles discussing the issues of sugar and SSB consumption published in 11 national newspapers from April 2015 to November 2016. 684 newspaper articles were analysed using a structured coding frame. Coverage peaked in line with evidence publication, campaigner activities and policy events. Articles predominantly supportive of SSB taxation (23.5%) outnumbered those that were predominantly oppositional (14.2%). However, oppositional articles outnumbered supportive ones in the month of the announcement of the SDIL. Sugar and SSB consumption were presented as health risks, particularly affecting young people, with the actions of industry often identified as the cause of the public health problem. Responsibility for addressing sugar overconsumption was primarily assigned to government intervention. Conclusion: Our results suggest that the policy landscape favouring fiscal solutions to curb sugar and SSB consumption has benefited from media coverage characterising the issue as an industry-driven problem. Media coverage may drive greater public acceptance of the SDIL and any future taxation of products containing sugar. However, future advocacy efforts should note the surge in opposition coinciding with the announcement of the SDIL, which echoes similar patterns of opposition observed in tobacco control debates.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Katikireddi, Dr Vittal and Hilton, Professor Shona and Buckton, Christina and Capewell, Dr Simon and Patterson, Mr Chris
Authors: Buckton, C., Patterson, C., Hyseni, L., Katikireddi, S., Lloyd-Williams, F., Elliott-Green, A., Capewell, S., and Hilton, S.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > MRC/CSO Unit
Journal Name:PLoS ONE
Publisher:Public Library of Science
ISSN (Online):1932-6203
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2018 The Authors
First Published:First published in PLoS ONE 13(12):e0207576
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
727671SPHSU Core Renewal: Informing Healthy Public Policy Research ProgrammePeter CraigMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_12017/15IHW - MRC/CSO SPHU