Sugar tax ‘ key to fat loss’
A TAX of about 70 pence ($ A1.50) per kilogram of sugar would reduce demand and lead people to losing an average of 3.2kg in weight, while lowering the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 13 per cent, international experts say.
In a debate in a medical journal, health experts said the prevalence of coronary heart disease would also fall.
Sirpa Sarlio- Lahteenkorva, adjunct professor and Finnish ministerial adviser, quoted a 2011 study that concluded a tax on sugar generally would be more effective than targeting specific food categories, such as a tax on sugary drinks.
The food industry may find this more acceptable because it would treat all sources equally and could also stimulate new products with less sugar, which would then be liable for less tax, she said. She said taxes on alcohol and tobacco had been widely used for decades and reduced consumption but food was a necessity and improving dietary habits this way was more complicated than limiting alcohol or tobacco use.
“A tax on sugar, preferably with measures that also target saturated fat and salt and incentives for healthy eating, would help,” she said.
“The food industry argues that consumption taxes are ineffective, unfair and damage the industry, leading to job losses; similar arguments are used by big tobacco.
“However, taxation of commodities such as alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food seems justified when the burden of ill health is mostly paid for by society.”
Arguing against the idea, J T Winkler, emeritus professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, said “sugar taxes are unlikely to be adopted and would not make much difference if they were”.
He also highlighted that Denmark’s “fat tax” was abolished just a year after being introduced following “universal opposition and widespread evasion”.
He suggested cutting product margins on soft drinks could be an effective alternative. Companies added extra margins on to sugar- free drinks, so they always sold for the same price as the sugared alternative, he said. Cutting part of that margin would create a price advantage for sugar- free drinks and “demand would shift, companies would make more money and public health and private profit might for once push in the same direction”.
DEBATE: Health experts blame too much sugar on a range of problems.