Themes Portrayed by Selected Newspapers on the Sugar Tax before and after its Implementation
BACKGROUND A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) was introduced in the UK on 6 April 2018. Evidence has shown that regular consumption of these beverages is a contributory factor to obesity and dental decay. Obesity is a risk factor for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer resulting in increased pressure on the NHS. The sugar tax implemented in the UK aims to encourage producers to reduce sugar in their products to avoid the tax and discourage the public from buying the full sugar versions. The implementation of this tax has sparked political and public debate some of which has been reflected in the news media. Study of newspapers can be useful to understand the current discourse on this debate. The aim of this study was to look at the 6 different UK newspapers before and after the sugar tax introduction on 6 April 2018 and to pinpoint the themes that were discussed. A selection of UK and Scottish broadsheet and tabloid newspapers were chosen so they could be compared to each other for similarities and differences. METHODS The newspapers included in this study were 3 UK newspapers: The Guardian, the Telegraph and the Sun and 3 Scottish newspapers: the Scotsman, the Herald and the Daily Record. The use of ProQuest Central Database was used to find newspaper articles on the sugar tax which included online and print articles. Newspaper articles from 6 February 2018 until 6 May 2018 were selected. A total of 68 articles were found that met the criteria. Firstly, the use of a quantitative coding method was used based on previously read literature to count selected key words to find out how frequently they appeared in the newspapers. The use of a qualitative coding method was used by reading the articles and assigning codes and then themes. In addition, each article was assessed to see if it was anti-tax, pro-tax or neutral and if it was proindustry, anti-industry or neutral. RESULTS The UK newspapers had considerably more articles compared to Scottish newspapers (51 to 17 respectively). Only 8% of articles were anti-industry of which most of the articles were from the Guardian. None of the Scottish newspapers was anti-industry. Broadsheets had a greater percentage of pro-sugar tax sentiment compared to the tabloid papers (72% to 37%). The common themes from the articles were: support for taxing sugar, tax limitations, opposition to taxing sugar; the challenges of reformulating sugar content in drinks and opposition to such reformulation. Childhood obesity and dental concerns were also addressed. Of the six newspapers, the Sun was the most negative on tax and reformulation and had little coverage on health. The common solutions discussed were exercise, education, extending tax to other foods and restricting advertising and marketing. On the whole most papers agreed with extending the tax and restricting advertising and marketing apart from the Sun which mainly advocated exercise and education. CONCLUSION The use of the sugar tax to help solve obesity and dental decay is perhaps too simplistic and can lead to unintended consequences if not fully supported. Trying to solve these complex issues perhaps requires an integrated approach. A bigger issue is how we have become so reliant on the food industry to feed us in the first place and now it seems we are reliant again on the industry to feed us better. Most of the UK newspapers appear to agree with the government decision for implementing a sugar tax despite criticisms regarding its limitations. The Sun was the paper that was the exception, being largely negative about the tax. All newspapers agreed that there is a problem with obesity. Who or what is to blame and how to solve this issue raised different points of view in the different newspapers. This study highlighted concerns and limitations regarding the sugar tax and its finding could be helpful for health campaigns.