As the world continues to combat other NCDs and CDs it comes closer to the obesity battle front. Only now do we have to seriously consider how we are going to combat obesity. One solution is taxing sugar sweetened beverages. Mexico, France, Belgium and Hungary have done it and over night the UK parliament passed a sugar tax so why can’t Australia?
Let’s start with a little quiz:
Have you ever drunk soda or bottled fruit juice before? Y or N
Do you occasionally crave a refreshing soda? Y or N
Do you drink at least a can or bottle of soda a week? Y or N
Have you ever bought a can or bottle of soda because it was cheaper than bottled water? Y or N
If you answered yes to most of these questions then I’d suggest reading further. And if you didn’t answer yes then I also suggest you continue reading.
Sweet-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are without doubt a public health problem. They are extremely energy dense and add to the excessive energy intake associated with obesity. In the USA, SSBs make up 7% of the population’s total energy intake, and 11% of the energy intake of children and adolescents. Furthermore, SSBs lack nutritional value and are easily accessible. In comparison to a piece of broccoli, SSBs have virtually no nutritional value and unlike our dear friend the broccoli SSBs are available everywhere – from vending machines to 5-star hotels.
As SSBs have been shown to be closely linked with obesity-related health disorders it is important to address this issue. In 2014 Mexico was the second fattest country in the world behind the USA, as 1 in 3 Mexican adults were obese. In January 2014, the Mexican government took the first step in combating this health issue by passing a rather economically controversial law whereby SSBs would incur a tax. A simple 10% tax on all sodas and sugary drinks was imposed. It was hoped that this tax would reduce consumption, and studies have shown that it worked – by December 2014, consumption of SSBs had dropped by 12% compared with previous years. Additionally, all the money collected from the SSB tax went directly into funding obesity-related health care, which is all fantastic for the medical world – more money and (hopefully) fewer problems! Of course, there is always someone who loses out when these changes are introduced, and in this case it was naturally the SSB manufacturers. Their persistent protests and a redoubling of advertising effort did not outweigh the sales impact of the tax.
Mexico has not been the only country moving forward in the fight against obesity. Interestingly, studies showed that if both diet soda drinks and normal soda drinks were then consumption of both fell. But, if only the normal soda drinks were taxed then diet soda drink consumption increased which is problematic as they are too are associated with causing obesity-related health issues.
A similar tax was implemented in Brazil, and studies there have shown that poorer individuals were more sensitive to the price change – the tax reduced the SSB intake of lower socioeconomic groups more than the intake of more affluent groups. For me, this is one of the most important outcomes, because developing countries and lower socioeconomic countries tend to be hit by a double burden of disease – both ‘traditional’, communicable diseases and (often obesity-related) chronic disease . Therefore, with the Brazilian government restricting lower socioeconomic individuals’ access to SSBs, they are dramatically reducing their future burden of disease.
So what has this got to do with the childhood obesity epidemic? It is about introducing methods by which we can avoid childhood obesity. Broadly speaking, children have a ‘sweet tooth’ and are more likely to enjoy SSBs. If their parents can no longer afford SSBs and are made aware of the related negative health outcomes, this is an important step forward.
This SSB tax is very relevant to Australia. Nearly 60% of adult Australians are overweight or obese. Methods for addressing and overcoming Australia’s obesity epidemic don’t stop at the SSB tax. Hungary has implemented a fat tax too. The possibilities for change are endless and I believe that it is essential for the Australian government to start seriously considering these issues. Cardiovascular disease and other non-communicable diseases impose a huge burden on the Australian health system and economy. Introducing a fat tax is a win for everyone – fewer people will be at risk of developing NCDs and there will be more health funding.
CHECK OUT JAMIE OLIVER’S VLOG FROM THIS MORNING ABOUT THE SUGAR TAX IN THE UK HERE:
If you are interested in the nitty gritty and want to read further about the issue you can find more information using the links below:
SBS. Health campaigners delighted by UK sugar tax surprise SBS News 2016.
Available from: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/03/17/health-campaigners-delighted-uk-sugar-tax-surprise
Cabrera Escobar MA, Veerman JL, Tollman SM, Bertram MY, Hofman KJ. Evidence that a tax on sugar sweetened beverages reduces the obesity rate: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health [journal article]. 2013;13(1):1-10.
Available from: http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-1072#CR44
Barclay E. In: Mexico’s Sugary Drink Tax Makes A Dent In Consumption, Study Claims. 2015. The Salt: The Salt
Available from: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/06/19/415741354/mexicos-sugary-drink-tax-makes-a-dent-in-consumption-study-claims
OECD. Obesity Update. France; 2014. Available from: http://www.oecd.org/health/Obesity-Update-2014.pdf
Image taken from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/10/calorie-smackdown-cola-vs-broccoli-infographic/