What’s all the fuss about sugar?

Obesity and related chronic diseases are a huge cost to our health system.  Is it time to act?

If you haven’t seen it already, there’s an online petition underway for the Government to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

This petition is supported by an alliance of health professionals and led by our very own editor-in-chief Niki Bezzant as one of a range of strategies to combat obesity, child tooth decay and chronic conditions.

For more on this check out Niki’s blogs.

Some of us are uncomfortable with the idea of any more tax, full stop. And some of us will see the measure as government interference where it doesn’t belong. ‘People should be able to eat or drink whatever they want’, the argument goes.

On the flipside, many are tired of the Government fiddling while Rome burns. Preventable ‘lifestyle’ diseases weigh heavily on an already strained health system, redirecting scarce dollars that could be spent elsewhere.

Health minister Jonathan Coleman argues there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of a sugary drinks tax.  Hardliners are panicking all over right-wing blog comment sections, terrified any action against these costly and preventable health conditions will result in them being rounded up and force fed vegetables by bands of health nuts.

All I can say is, let’s wind back the hysteria a notch and be a bit practical. That is, after all, part of the Healthy Food Guide ethos.

If there’s something we can do to improve the health of New Zealanders shouldn’t we try it? No one claims a tax on sugary drinks is the answer on its own.  It does, however, send a message that we don’t want to sit on our hands anymore.  We want to start fixing the alarmingly high obesity and type-2 diabetes rates that are such a waste of money and life quality.

My suggestion is, if you don’t agree with the premise of the petition for ideological reasons, why not take some sort of action you do believe in?  Ask your school to offer healthier, affordable options at the canteen.  See if your local dairy owner will agree not to sell sugary drinks to kids directly before and after school – whatever works for your community.  This doesn’t have to be a divisive political issue.  It’s quite simply about health – something we all benefit from.  Let us know if you make any headway with your ideas. We’d love to share them in the magazine.

If you do want to sign the petition, then thanks for your support. And thank you very much to the 5000+ people who have signed already.

First published: Apr 2016

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