Health Professors Rally For Sugar Tax

Government not convinced

Several health experts around the country have proposed that sugary drinks such as coke, fanta and sprite be taxed to help combat New Zealand’s high rate of child obesity (fourth highest in the world), diabetes and heart disease. Over 70 health academics have voiced their opinions, calling the government to be aware of the growing health issues caused by high sugar content in both food and drink. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has opposed the idea, saying there is “still no evidence a tax would actually decrease obesity. There is no simple answer otherwise people would have tried it.” Research Fellow in the Department of Human Nutrition, Dr Lisa Te Morenga, disagrees, stating in a short interview with Critic that: “evidence contrary to what the Minister of Health says suggests that the tax will have some effect. While it may be small, it will nevertheless be significant.” Dr Morenga is involved with a lot of the research around generating evidence of the bad effects of sugar. “One argument against creating the tax is that people will just shift to cheaper brands. I can see why big companies like Coke wouldn’t want that. However, no bad backlash could really come of this. People don’t actually need sugary drinks its not a necessity. The full cost is not reflected in the price you pay.” Morenga also pointed out the government’s argument that it all boils down to consumer education: “there is no evidence that the education approach works at all. The tax would be at least significant even if it is small.” Professors want cabinet to introduce a 20 percent ‘excise tax’ on sugary drinks, saying it will generate “$30-$40 million that could go towards obesity prevention programmes”.

Professor in Human Nutrition and Medicine at Otago University, Jim Mann, has been involved in research for 35 years. Mann works on the World Health Organization committee that makes recommendations such as the tax issue. He states that “the evidence is sufficient enough to convince a lot of countries, including the UK. Taxing is just one of the things we need to do. Instead of just telling people not to drink and eat sugary things, the environment must be changed.”

Labour leader Andrew Little also shared his thoughts, saying that the country needs “to come to grips with total sugar content” in all sorts of foods. It seems unlikely the sugar tax will be supported by the government any time soon.

This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2016.
Posted 10:34am Sunday 10th April 2016 by Jessica Thompson.