Time to show leadership and adopt a tax on sugary drinks

EDITORIAL

The voter split in our webpoll on whether a tax on sugary drinks should be introduced probably reflects the general opinion of the country in a debate that is only going to intensify. It is also reflected in the front-page story yesterday on a wide-ranging discussion on this and other health issues at Hauora Tairawhiti.

Of the 225 webpoll voters, 47 percent voted yes to the tax and 49 percent no. People making comments on both sides had some good points to make.

“No” voters said there was enough advice for young people to know about sugar, and “education and fostering of personal responsibility is the answer, not nanny state social engineering”.

The best argument from “yes” voters was the obvious physical evidence in a district with horrific levels of childhood dental decay and New Zealand’s worst levels of obesity for young people.

Both groups had valid points to make in a debate that heated up with the United Kingdom’s surprise announcement of a 35p a litre tax on sugary drinks.

At Hauora Tairawhiti board members accepted they had a responsibility to promote healthy lifestyles, and that this had to include a focus on schools and homes. There was a feeling that a sugar tax was inevitable.

Obviously this could only be done at a national level and the Government at present is ambivalent. It argues that the evidence is not strong enough yet.

But as the third fattest developed country in the world, New Zealand needs to show leadership.

Hiking the prices for sugary drinks would obviously reduce consumption, and tiering the tax would incentivise manufacturers to lower the surprisingly high sugar content of many drinks.

An education and physical activity programme should run in conjunction with this, funded with the tax revenue — similar to what the UK is doing to boost exercise opportunities at schools.

When obesity levels are among the worst in the world and children under the age of five are having their teeth pulled out because they are rotten, it is time for the Government to show leadership.

The voter split in our webpoll on whether a tax on sugary drinks should be introduced probably reflects the general opinion of the country in a debate that is only going to intensify. It is also reflected in the front-page story yesterday on a wide-ranging discussion on this and other health issues at Hauora Tairawhiti.

Of the 225 webpoll voters, 47 percent voted yes to the tax and 49 percent no. People making comments on both sides had some good points to make.

“No” voters said there was enough advice for young people to know about sugar, and “education and fostering of personal responsibility is the answer, not nanny state social engineering”.

The best argument from “yes” voters was the obvious physical evidence in a district with horrific levels of childhood dental decay and New Zealand’s worst levels of obesity for young people.

Both groups had valid points to make in a debate that heated up with the United Kingdom’s surprise announcement of a 35p a litre tax on sugary drinks.

At Hauora Tairawhiti board members accepted they had a responsibility to promote healthy lifestyles, and that this had to include a focus on schools and homes. There was a feeling that a sugar tax was inevitable.

Obviously this could only be done at a national level and the Government at present is ambivalent. It argues that the evidence is not strong enough yet.

But as the third fattest developed country in the world, New Zealand needs to show leadership.

Hiking the prices for sugary drinks would obviously reduce consumption, and tiering the tax would incentivise manufacturers to lower the surprisingly high sugar content of many drinks.

An education and physical activity programme should run in conjunction with this, funded with the tax revenue — similar to what the UK is doing to boost exercise opportunities at schools.

When obesity levels are among the worst in the world and children under the age of five are having their teeth pulled out because they are rotten, it is time for the Government to show leadership.

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