Sugar Reduction in Soft Drinks

A recent study published in the Lancet shows that a gradual reduction in sugars added to sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g. soft drinks) would help to reduce peoples’ energy intake and the prevalence of obesity. In turn, this would prevent around 300,000 incident cases of obesity-related type 2 diabetes. The associated reduction in patient intake would facilitate cost and carbon savings for NHS England, as modelled below.


Patient Numbers

Currently, there are c3.5 million people in the UK with type 2 diabetes. At our current trajectory this is predicted to rise to 5 million by 2025. This equates to an average increase of c155,000 new patients per annum.

Cost of Care

In 2011 it was estimated that the cost of Type 2 diabetes to the NHS was £8.8 billion per annum.

To take into account inflation and patient growth to 2016, this figure was prudentially rounded to £9 billion. Using the above patient figures, this equates to a conservative cost per patient of c£2600 per annum.

Carbon Impact

In research carried out by Novo Nordisk & Environmental Resources Management, it is estimated that treatment for type 2 diabetes generates 144kg of carbon per patient.

Cost and Carbon Saving Rationale

Using the above datasets an intervention that could successfully reduce the number of patients requiring treatment for type 2 diabetes would save the health and social care system c£2600 of cost and 144kg of carbon for each person that, as a result of the intervention, avoids developing type 2 diabetes and requiring treatment.

The intervention – reducing sugar in soft drinks

The establishment of a 5-year ‘Sugar Reduction Taskforce’ to engage and work with the food industry to gradually reduce sugar in beverages. As set out above, the objective of the Taskforce would be to help facilitate a 40% reduction in sugars that are added to sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g. soft drinks) over the 5 year period. According to the Lancet modelling, this would lead to an average reduction in energy intake of 38.4 kcal per day (commencing from the end of the fifth year). In turn, this would lead to an average reduction in steady-state bodyweight of 1.20 kg in adults and a reduction in obesity by 2.1%. This would prevent roughly 500,000 adults from being overweight and 1 million adults from being obese, which in turn would prevent up to 309,000 incident cases of obesity-related type 2 diabetes over two decades – c15,000 preventions per annum. Using the cost and carbon figures set out above, achieving this result would save the health and care system c.£40 million and 2000 tonnes of carbon every year (following the initial 5-year intervention).

Case study source

  1. Gradual reduction of sugar in soft drinks without substitution as a strategy to reduce overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes: a modelling study. Lancet 2016 (Yuan Ma, Feng J He, Yunjian Yin, Kawther M Hashem, Graham A MacGregor.)
  2. Diabetes UK Facts and Stats
  3. Estimating the current and future costs of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the UK, including direct health costs and indirect societal and productivity costs. (Hex et al.)
  4. Care Pathways: Guidance on Appraising Sustainability: Lifelong Type 2 Diabetes Management Care Pathway.

Taskforce Costs

The cost of setting up and operating a Sugar Reduction Taskforce for 5 years has been estimated to be £2.6 million.


This Healthy Returns research relates to NHS England and so uptake rate of 80% has been applied to the above figures (which are UK wide) to provide a proportional estimate for NHS England only.