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New Zealand wellness experts call for sugar tax

New Zealand wellness experts call for sugar tax
April 3, 2016

A grouping of more than 70 university academics, backed by public health advocacy group FIZZ New Zealand Inc (Fighting Sugar in Soft-drinks), are calling on the New Zealand Government to impose a 20% tax on sugary drinks, citing evidence that the move will help fight childhood obesity.

The grouping, including experts in child health, nutrition, dentistry and diabetes, have signed an open letter to cabinet calling for it as part of stronger child obesity prevention measures, with New Zealand having the fourth highest rate of child obesity in the world.

Sugar tax hit the headlines last month when the United Kingdom Government made the surprise announcement it was going to introduce the tax on soft drinks in two years' time - to tackle a growing obesity crisis.

Explaining the call, Dr Gerhard Sundborn, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health, states “(at FIZZ) we see this move as very positive and think it will make the possibility of a similar tax being introduced far more likely here in New Zealand.

"It is great to see the UK Government being bold and showing strong leadership. It signals that obesity as an issue in the UK is being taken seriously by addressing it with meaningful policy.

"We hope this will encourage our government to follow suit."

Dr Simon Thornley, Epidemiologist at Auckland Regional Public Health Service, added “(this is) great news.

“In my view, sugar needs to be treated like tobacco with progressive tax increases.

“The situation in New Zealand is very similar to the UK with high levels of childhood and adult obesity. As well as limiting weight gain, this tax is likely to lead to major savings on children's dental health.”

The recent study published in international medical journal The Lancet found New Zealand has one of the highest ratios of overweight people in the world.

The study, compared body mass index among almost 20 million adult men and women people, from 1975 to 2014.

The study predicted that if current trends continue, the likelihood of meeting the global obesity target was virtually zero and that by 2025, 17% of men and 21% of women in the world would be obese.

The research revealed nearly 20% of the world's obese adults - 118 million - live in New Zealand and five other high-income English-speaking countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the USA.

One of the report's authors, Robert Beaglehole, an Emeritus Professor at Auckland University said New Zealand had lost the battle with adult obesity, but there was much more that could be done to prevent children from becoming overweight.

Professor Beaglehole said the Government was neglecting strategies to reduce the condition among children, such as placing a tax on sugary drinks, stating “it's a question of whose interests the government is promoting. If it's promoting the interests of the children of New Zealand it will act seriously and do all measures that are available to prevent further childhood obesity.

"That's not being a nanny state, that's being a responsible government looking after its most vulnerable citizens."

However, New Zealand Health Minister Jonathan Coleman responded by saying there was no conclusive evidence that links a sugar tax with a decrease in obesity.

Dr Coleman stated “we're keeping a watching brief on the evidence, but at the moment there's no conclusive evidence that links a sugar tax with a decrease in obesity.”

In response, the experts say that view is nonsense, their letter explaining “multiple authoritative bodies worldwide have reviewed the available evidence on sugary drinks taxes and concluded that such taxes are likely to be one of the most cost-effective interventions available.”

They also slammed the New Zealand Government's action plan for childhood obesity, launched last year, and its 22 strategies.

Otago University Professor of Nutrition and Medicine Jim Mann criticised the 22 recommendations, saying they were 'soft options'.

Professor Mann added “we are exposed to this environment where we are encouraged to have energy-dense food, advertising is unlimited and there really is no attempt to restrict our consumption.

"Everyone knows what we should be doing, but clearly we're not doing it."

Professor Mann said New Zealand should adopt similar strategies to those used to fight alcohol and tobacco use and change the environment to discourage access to cheap, highly processed carbohydrates.

16th March 2016 - COCA-COLA REVEALS $1.7 MILLION FUNDING FOR AUSTRALIAN HEALTH RESEARCH GROUPS

29th Janaury 2016 - CHILDHOOD OBESITY RATES TO SOAR WITHOUT URGENT GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION

14th January 2016 - THE DEVASTATING IMPACT OF SOFT DRINKS ON PUBLIC HEALTH

21st December 2015 - WORLD OBESITY PARTNERS WITH THE LANCET TO LAUNCH NEW INTERNATIONAL OBESITY COMMISSION

21st October 2015 - NEW ZEALAND PLAN TO REDUCE CHILDHOOD OBESITY

17th August 2015 - COCA-COLA BACKED RESEARCH FINDS PHYSICAL INACTIVITY A ‘MAJOR PREDICTOR OF CHILDHOOD OBESITY’

27th August 2014 - STUDY SHOWS DRINKS CHILDREN ASSOCIATE WITH SPORT ARE LARGELY UNHEALTHY 

31st January 2014 - HEALTH MINISTER SAYS PARENTS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING CHILDREN ACTIVE


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