Young People’s Views help inform a nationwide campaign!

The 2018 Soft Drinks Industry Levy (sugar tax) has been an incredible success.  The organisations behind it – Sustain, The Food Foundation and the Obesity Health Alliance, are currently busy building momentum for their new ‘Recipe for Change’ campaign which is calling for an industry levy to help make food healthier and we were delighted when they asked us to design and deliver a research project to investigate young people’s views of it to help inform their campaign. 

Our work experience team who designed and ran the research project could be forgiven for not remembering the details of the drinks levy as they were only in primary school when it was introduced, but it has certainly had a positive impact on their taste in soft drinks and health. That was just one of the incredibly insightful results of their research that reported some clear consensus…….

Our client brief

In the spring of 2024 we were commissioned by Kate Howard, Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator to design a focus group script that we could run with young people in order to research and report what their views are on:

  • healthy eating
  • what they think of the proposed unhealthy food levy 
  • how the campaign could be appealing to them

Sustain’s campaigns are always informed by careful research and finding out young people’s views is very important to them. We Rise are experts at reaching and engaging young people having already successfully run research projects with them on a wide variety of topics. It was a great endorsement for this one to come our way via a previous client’s recommendation. 

What we did:

In April we brought together a team of 10 young people aged 16 and 17 to work together with our We Rise expert coaches to; understand the brief, develop a focus group script, organise and then run the fieldwork focus groups at their schools. Our team of: Joanna, Emily, Abigail, Taliyah, Shaventelle, Rayan, Jhovari, Nana, Shiloh and Syntyche, broke down the script into the following sections:

  • Existing habits and diet
  • What you know about the soft drinks industry levy
  • Your views on making food and drink healthier
  • Your views on the campaign

Based on their unique insights into how best to engage and keep the target audience focused, they made sure it included interactive activities. They ran 5 sessions for a total of 27 young people aged between 14 and 17 years old.  The participants were incentivised with a voucher payment and nourishing snacks!

With the help of an IPSOS volunteer they then assessed the focus group discussions and presented a report to the client.

“I loved the opportunity to hold the briefing with the young people at the start and they did a great job at getting to grips with a not very easy topic.” – Kate Howard, Recipe For Change

Key findings:

Healthy Eating

Overall there was a consensus that it was not easy to eat healthily but some young people conceded that there was an element of choice:

“If you are willing you can.” – Focus group participant.

In most cases parents buy and cook food at home and try to make informed healthy food choices but cost is a factor in limiting their choices. When young people choose their own food they base it on: taste, cost, habits / familiarity and convenience.

They associate healthy food with fruit and veg and a balanced diet and feel that it isn’t as tasty as non healthy food. 

Unhealthy food is seen as fast food, junk food and cheap food, with too much salt, sugar and food that is fried. There is a strong association that fast and cheap food can’t be healthy and it is designed to be very profitable for the companies that make it. They know that unhealthy food is marketed much more and big companies can afford to promote their products more and do it more effectively through adverts, trends and packaging that appeals to children, young people and their parents. 

They don’t feel that they know what goes into their food and find labeling hard to understand.

“The scientific words they use are hard to understand and I think that is why they do it so people ignore it, like glucose is just sugar so why not say so!” – Focus group participant.

Soft Drinks Levy

The team running the focus groups explained the soft drinks levy: 

Companies can keep the sugar levels of their products as they are and pay more tax, which is spent on healthy eating programmes 


They can reduce the sugar content so that there’s less tax paid to spend on the healthy eating programmes but overall the drinks aren’t as bad for us.

Many of the young people in the focus groups told us that they didn’t drink fizzy drinks that often.  They said this was because they are too sweet and are mostly drunk as a treat.  

“I was brought up to think they were unhealthy” – Focus group participant.

“Levy has been a good idea – even if they are not reducing the sugar at least money is being used for education.” – Focus group participant.

Attitudes towards the Future Levy 

All participants expressed support for the proposed levy on unhealthy foods and thought it was a good idea, but they didn’t want it to affect taste and cost. 

There was nearly a unanimous agreement on including sweets in the levy:

“Sweets should definitely be included, if the drinks are being taxed I’m amazed that sweets aren’t already being taxed”– Focus group participant.

They all showed a collective interest in using it to promote healthier dietary choices but a lot of them wanted ‘treat’ places like ‘Creams’ or family orientated restaurants like ‘Nandos’ to be exempt as they were seen as infrequent places to go and they didn’t want to cost families more money if they were generally healthy the rest of the time.

Views about the benefits of the levy 

They found it difficult to choose whether it was better for the impact of the levys to be that companies keep their food and drinks as they are and pay the tax in order to have money to spend on healthy food programmes. Or For food and drinks to be made healthier but there to be less money generated. 

They saw the pros and cons of each but there was a lot of support for raising money to be spent on healthy food education and also helping people living in poverty have healthier food options because they saw there was a significant need for it.

What should the money be spent on? 

There was a large consensus that the best use for the money raised from a potential new tax would be to feed it back into the community, through education or be used as funding to promote and improve campaigns like the Recipe For Change. 

They felt that primary schools had healthy eating education but they lacked it in secondary school and really wanted it, particularly to find out: 

  • The long term effects of unhealthy eating
  • What goes into the food that they eat, and 
  • How to eat more healthily – such as cooking and growing food 

This is what our client had to say about the project:

“It was really good seeing how they seemed much more enthused when it came to the presentation, after engaging with the topic. They also did a great job with the presentation and fielding all the questions from everyone.” – Kate Howard, Recipe For Change

The appreciation was mutual:

“The element that I enjoyed first meeting the client and getting a bit of background information about them. Although I was very shy on the first day and barely spoke, it was very intriguing and I definitely feel like they’re very inspiring. Another thing I enjoyed was coming together and forming relationships with the other peers there when trying to develop the script to send off to the client.” – Shavantelle, project participant.

The impact of the project on the work experience cohort was incredible.  Their feedback for understanding business and customer awareness improved over 1.5 points, (eg. from poor to nearly very good), across the start to the end of the project, and the improvement in their self confidence wasn’t far behind:

“A thing that I learned about myself thanks to James and Polly was that if I genuinely put out the effort and give myself time to adjust to a new environment then I can definitely strive further in life. James and Polly allowed me to get comfortable enough to the point I could be myself and face my fears. I was able to speak in a very confident manner and contribute more as usually I would stay silent. They definitely made me learn how to not give up and keep trying and just be myself.” – Shavantelle, project participant

“I liked everything it was really fun!” – Syntyche

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