The Discussion About a Sugar-Tax to Reduce Rising Obesity Rates.
Obesity rates across the globe have increased by more than two-fold in 30 years. The impact directly on our heath from obesity and the association with chronic disease, such as heart disease and diabetes makes the increase in just three decades astonishingly worrisome. Additionally, when looking at the obesity rates for children, it is not difficult to understand why some are screaming for a united health strategy to address the growing rates (Blumenthal, S. and Levin, 2016). Of course, it is not only individuals who are affected. The obesity rates are ballooning health care costs and straining health care services.
Those in favor of a sugar tax state that by implementing a tax that would result in the cost of sugar-added, high calorie drinks and food choices going up will lead to people choosing different, less expensive products without so much added sugar thereby, decreasing their consumption of sugar and result in lower body weight.
Dr. Gifford-Jones recaps an interesting timeline about sugar tax and shows how research in the U.S and the UK as far back as 1964 showed an association between increased sugar consumption and poor health outcomes such as heart disease. Now we also know a real culprit is the hidden sugar. As consumers, we are becoming more aware that sugary drinks and pre-packaged cakes and other desserts are not good for our health; however, for the majority of us, it is difficult to read food labels and understand how much sugar is added to our food choices. An interesting report was released by the Food Foundation and states very clearly that “[T]the diets of typical British families now pose the greatest threat to their health and survival.” (The Food Foundation, 2016).
The World Health organization has called for a sugar tax and is stating that obesity rates are rising in both the developing and developed countries. Importantly, the WHO is clear that the sugar tax is only one part of an overall health strategy required to reduce obesity. Proponents of an overall health strategy point out that it is not only a sugar tax that may help reduce obesity but a comprehensive plan that also includes reducing the advertising and promotion of food that contains added sugar (Triggle, 2016).
Other necessary pieces of any strategy must also simultaneously provide education and promote other healthy choices such as reducing portion sizes and participating in regular exercise. Alarmingly, the increased rates among children and even young children pose a very grave threat. The WHO calls for a change on what and how we market food choices to children (Donnelly, 2016).
Many governments are either discussing the merits of introducing a sugar tax or have recently implemented a sugar tax. Recently within the past few years France and Hungary adopted a sugar tax while other countries in Scandinavia have had a sugar tax the longest. Mexico has imposed a sugar tax most recently in 2014 (Geller, 2016; Gifford-Jones, 2016). However, other governments are hesitant to implement any new tax strategies, particularly when economies are struggling. Also, there are individuals, who abhor the government acting like a ‘nanny state’ and legislating what comes down to our own individual food choices. (Triggle, 2016).
Proponents argue that a sugar tax will reduce obesity. However, researchers in Mexico are cautioning that the reduced consumption of sugar, which is often quoted as evidence as sugar tax will work to reduce obesity is in fact a small proportion of the overall calorie intake of the people in the study. Therefore, stating the reduced consumption of sugar in Mexico as a result of the imposed sugar tax without critically thinking about how much less sugar or reduced calories the reduced consumption is in relation to the overall diet of individuals in the study is not looking at the whole picture.
What is positive about the results in Mexico is that since the sugar tax was introduced, there is an indication that people are increasing their intake of both water and other non-sugar added drinks (Geller, 2016). Nutritionists and researchers agree this is a positive change when it comes to healthy choices.
A multi-pronged strategy, which is what the majority of those working toward a sugar-tax suggest to stop and ultimately reverse the trends in obesity is not new and is similar to the strategies used previously to reduce tobacco consumption. What we know for sure is that it will take decisive measures in combination perhaps with a sugar-tax to impact the rising obesity trends. Moreover, the evidence to-date is not conclusive that the impact of a sugar tax is enough to reduce the consumption of sugar or calories in a meaningful way that will directly reduce obesity.
Blumenthal, S. and Levin, S. (2016, February). Global Obesity_ A Growing Epidemic.pdf. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-blumenthal/global-obesity-a-growing-_b_9139554.html
Donnelly, L. (2016). Sugar tax needed in war on obesity, WHO says – Telegraph.pdf. London: The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/12120632/Sugar-tax-needed-in-war-on-obesity-WHO-says.html
The Food Foundation. (2016). The-Food-Foundation-64pp-A4-Landscape-Brochure-AW-V32.pdf. London. Retrieved from http://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/The-Food-Foundation-64pp-A4-Landscape-Brochure-AW-V32.pdf
Geller, M. (2016, February 8). For sugar tax supporters, 2016 may be the sweet spot _ Reuters.pdf. Reuters Editorial. London: Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-sugar-tax-drinks-idUSKCN0VH1D5
Gifford-Jones, W. (2016, February 13). Will a tax on sugar cure obesity_ _ Health & Fitness _ Life _ Toronto Sun.pdf. Toronto Sun. Toronto. Retrieved from http://www.torontosun.com/2016/02/11/will-a-tax-on-sugar-cure-obesity
Triggle, N. (2016, January 25). Why the government is going sweet on a sugar tax – BBC News.pdf. BBC News. London. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35373816