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Tax on sugar

A teaspoon of sugar may let the medicine go down as the famous line of Mary Poppins trills but not 10, which is what the average soft drink contains.

Tax on sugar

Especially light of the proposed new daily recommendation of the World Health Organisation of 24grams of sugar which is equivalent to six teaspoons.

Sports drinks contain even more, up to 16 teaspoons of sugar, says Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu of the National Health Institute for Health Innovation.

“All they’re giving you is sugar which we know increases your body weight and ruins your teeth,” Mhurchu says.

Mhurchu was a speaker at the recent two-day Symposium on Sugar Sweetened Beverages, Sugar and Health held at the University of Auckland Medical School. The theme of the event – a Sugary Drink Free Pacific by 2030?

The Symposium was organised in conjunction with academics from the University of Auckland and advocacy group FIZZ, the latter led by University of Auckland researcher Dr Gerhard Sundborn. The group is made up of researchers and public health professionals who advocate ending the sale of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) from New Zealand in light of studies linking the intake of sugary drinks with poor health including type-2 diabetes, rotten teeth and gout.

Studies have shown that calories consumed in beverages are not well compensated for by a reduction in calories consumed in food, meaning an additive effect on energy intake.

The most recent New Zealand national nutrition surveys show that SSBs contribute 26 per cent of total sugar intakes to the diets of New Zealand children and 17 per cent of total sugar intake to the diets of New Zealand adults. Findings from the Obesity Prevention in Communities study showed that compared to non-SSB consumers, children who consumed one can of SSB per day had a mean higher weight of 3.3kg, and those who consumed two cans had a higher mean weight of 5.3kg.

A tax on SSBs was one recommendation to come out of the Symposium.

“Taxation is just one strategy but it is one that we know will potentially have an effect,” Mhurchu says. “We worked out that a 20 per cent tax on sugar could save around 70 lives a year in New Zealand and not only that, it would raise up to $40million in revenue that could potentially then be used to improve health in other ways.”

New Zealand is not the first to consider a tax on SSBs. The British Medical Journal recently reported that a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks could reduce the prevalence of obesity in the UK by 1.3 per cent and reduce the prevalence of overweight by a further 0.9 per cent while a health impact assessment of a 10 per cent tax in Ireland produced similar figures of 1.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively.

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