Heart Foundation Supports Tax On Sugary Drinks In The Increase In Obesity Rates

HEART Foundation of Jamaica Executive Director Deborah Chen says her organisation strongly supports the Government's proposal to impose a tax on sugary drinks in light of the alarming increase in obesity rates, particularly in children. With the setting up of a Food Industry Task Force last March to support the health ministry's response to lifestyle diseases, the discussions have heated up between policymakers and stakeholders in the food industry over whether there is a need to establish a tax regime for sugary drinks. The argument advanced is that the tax could lower consumption and make it less profitable for manufacturers to produce beverages with high sugar content. However, opponents of a tax have argued that education and assisting people to make better food choices could prove more beneficial than taxation. Speaking on the issue at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Chen stated that, “the Heart Foundation definitely supports that (taxation). It's a recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO). There is quite a lot of data out there supporting the tax... we believe that based on the WHO recommendations there should be efforts to stop marketing unhealthy products and alcoholic beverages to children, because we know the power of marketing… we think that a tax on sugary sweetened beverages would certainly go a far way to reduce this epidemic that we are facing.” She pointed out that with children now living in an environment that promotes food choices which lead to obesity — whether in the home or at school — it is the Government's responsibility to intervene with policy such as taxes as one measure of stemming increasing obesity, which is one of the driving factors for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiac ailments. Chen noted that Caricom heads of government, at their 2016 meeting, had thought the issue so important that they committed to using fiscal measures to combat obesity. “We are not telling you what to eat, we just think there needs to be a tax on it to reduce the consumption… the Government also has a responsibility to protect the public health of their citizens, and if — based on the data that is there — these are some measures that can help in that regard, then I think that's their duty and responsibility,” she emphasised. Director of non-communicable diseases and injuries prevention in the Ministry of Health, Dr Tamu Davidson, agreed that the Government must address its citizens' fundamental right to health through policy as the economic impact is devastating to the national budget in an environment with limited resources. She stressed also that the right to protect the health of the child is at the core of the ongoing global movement to address child obesity. The WHO says 2.7 billion adults worldwide will suffer from overweight and obesity by 2025, and that the condition has reached epidemic proportions across the world, with at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese. In its 2016 report the WHO pointed to excess calories from sugar-sweetened drinks as a significant contributor to the global rise in obesity and diabetes. Stakeholders in the local health sector have had increasing cause to worry, as the overall overweight/obesity trend for adults moved from 34 per cent in 2000 to 60 per cent in 2016. “This trend is astounding — showing a 76 per cent increase in 16 years and clearly calls for bold and sustained corrective action,” the Heart Foundation said in a recent release. “At the end of the day, somebody has to pay [for] the amputations for the diabetics, somebody has to pay for the dialysis… can you imagine a scenario if we don't do anything [and] these obesity rates continue at the same pace. are we saying in a few years our high schools are going to have diabetics?” she argued. Dr Davidson noted the alarming fact that the adolescent age group is usually affected by type one diabetes, which is not directly related to lifestyle, but that now the data is already showing increasing cases of type two diabetes — mainly diagnosed in adults — among children. “If we continue, we are going to set ourselves up to see type two surpass type one (among children),” she stated. The Ministry of Health is continuing consultations with stakeholders in the manufacturing industry about product labelling and lessening the sugar content of products, among other recommendations of the Food Industry Task Force. Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton indicated last November that the plan is to start implementing the recommendations this year. Manufacturers have two to three years to comply with the final requirements, and already some food producers have begun adjusting their labels as well as providing healthier product options. Source: Jamaica Observer