Evaluating ‘sin taxes’ – messy complexity in public health

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  • Professor Harry Rutter, evaluator of the UK’s sugar tax, explains the difficulties of evaluating public health interventions and why he would never describe it as a ‘sin tax’.

    In this talk, he explains the difference between complicated and complex, and highlights the endless conflicting advice around key public health policy issues. A key problem is that interventions that are demonstrated to be both effective and cost-effective are often only things that can neatly evaluated, which ignores other potential interventions that could have a very small effect on a very large number of people. Even simple interventions can take on a very complex form within a social context, as the system adapts to intervention that you try to make.

    Professor Rutter explains his work evaluating the impact of the sugar tax and some of the intended and unintended consequences of the tax – companies reformulating drinks to avoid tax, changing pricing structures, public and media discourse around sugar sweetened drinks, and changing political acceptability. He outlines the value of internalising health externalities, and why he would never describe it as a ‘sin tax’.

    Professor Harry Rutter is Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Bath and Senior Academic Adviser to Public Health England.

    This talk was given as part of the the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Symposium: Behaviour change to improve health for all
    https://acmedsci.ac.uk/more/events/behaviour-change-to-improve-health-for-all

    This symposium was co-hosted by the US National Academy of Medicine and the UK Academy of Medical Sciences.

    Find out more about the US National Academy of Medicine
    https://nam.edu/

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