The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has revealed that a ‘snack tax’ - increasing the price of high-sugar snacks such as biscuits, sweets and cakes - could be a more effective way to reduce levels of obesity than taxing sugar-sweetened drinks.

New research, funded by the organisation’s Policy Research Programme, used economic modelling to predict the impact of a 20% price increase on high sugar snack foods in the UK and found that the increase would reduce average energy intake over the course of a year by around 8,900 calories across adults in all income groups, leading to an average weight loss of 1.3kg over a year.

It also found that a similar price increase on sugary drinks would result in a much lower average weight loss of 0.2kg.

The researchers looked at food purchase data for 36,324 households and survey information on adults’ food intake for 2,544 adults from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

Three categories of high sugar snacks were included - biscuits, chocolates and confectionery, and cakes (not including larger cakes meant for sharing).

Lead researchers Dr Pauline Scheelbeek and Dr Laura Cornelsen, both based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commented that a price increase for high sugar snacks has the “potential to reduce overall energy purchased among all body mass index and income groups in the UK, leading to an estimated population level reduction in obesity prevalence of 2.7 percentage points after the first year.”

They also suggested that “price increases in high sugar snacks could also make an important contribution to reducing health inequalities driven by diet related disease.”

In the UK around one in four adults are estimated to be obese, with higher rates among lower income groups.

Earlier this year analysis from Cancer Research UK found that excess weight causes more cases of certain cancers than smoking, as the number of people who are obese now outnumbers those who smoke two to one in the UK.