According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, Mexico is the country with the biggest weight problem in the world. A whopping 32.8% of its population is obese or overweight. Fourteen percent have diabetes. What did the leaders and lawmakers do to curb this problem? They passed a groundbreaking tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). So far, the experts and keen observers think that the effects of this tax are good. Should we follow suit in New Zealand and Australia? What do you think?
There is a direct link between sugar-sweetened beverages and the risk for heart disease, obesity and diabetes. That’s now a fact. What qualifies as a sugar-sweetened beverage? These are beverages that include added sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or fruit juice concentrates. All of them have the same metabolic effects on our bodies. Examples of sugar sweetened beverages are energy drinks, carbonated fizzy drinks, fruit juice, flavoured milk, flavoured water, sports drinks, iced tea and cordials.
More than one-fifth of New Zealand adults obtain their sugar from non-alcoholic beverages. What’s more alarming is that even children aren’t spared from this problem. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are occurring more in children than ever before. In fact according to the latest national nutrition survey SSBs make up one quarter of the total sugar intake in New Zealand children.
Let’s move over to Australia, which isn’t far behind when it comes to SSBs. Among Australians, young men (19 to 24 years old) consumed the highest amounts of sugar sweetened beverages in the country. Fifty-eight percent of them drank an average of two cans per day. Almost 50% of children in Australia drank sugar sweetened beverages, with half of that consumption from soft drinks.
What are the benefits of taxation on sugary drinks?
Controlling the obesity epidemic. More sugar consumption directly translates to an increase in obesity rates. Almost everybody on this Earth connected to the television and the Internet knows that. But still we consume SSBs. A higher tax on sugary drinks will definitely deter or even stop buyers, and instead focus their attention to more pressing needs. As a result, consumers will have less excess sugar in their system and decrease their chances of becoming obese and diabetic. According to recent studies, a tax of at least 20% on SSBs is required to have a measurable impact on obesity and diabetes rates.
You raise more funds for government health programs. If the government can collect more money for its campaign against SSBs, it will be able to raise more awareness about the effects of consuming SSBs. Once people are more aware of the negative effects, they can decide for themselves if they want to suffer the consequences of continuing to consume large amounts of sugar daily.
You divert money to more important and healthier food choices. Instead of buying SSBs, maybe you and your family could spend more on healthier food choices like vegetables and quality meats. By the way, as a general rule, it’s better to eat your fruit whole than drink it as juice. If you want to drink something, there’s water and milk (unflavoured of course).
Decreased healthcare costs. This one is quite obvious. If you don’t get sick with any of the medical conditions affiliated with SSBs, you spend less on healthcare or buying medicines. You also get to live a healthier, more productive life.
Things you can do to reduce sugary drink consumption:
1. Avoid the grocery aisle containing SSBs. Controlling yourself from passing by the grocery aisle loaded with SSBs is a great way of reducing SSB consumption in your home. This is particularly important if you go grocery shopping with your kids. Water and unflavoured milk are the best alternatives you can have.
It’s a known fact that sugar sweetened beverages add useless calories to your body without even making you feel full. Why would you want that?
2. Major SSB companies advertise their way into your family through your television. It goes without saying that limiting TV time for your children is another major contributor to your success in winning the battle against SSB consumption in your home. A prospective study in children found that your child’s risk of becoming obese increases by 60% for every additional sugary drink he/she consumes per day!
3. Be a role model. How can you tell your kids not to drink soft drinks when you can’t even control yourself from finishing that one litre of fizzy drink? Don’t try to make an excuse by saying you’re already an adult either, your kids won’t buy that. If your kids see you drinking water and milk at meal times, chances are they’ll do the same.
4. Educate the members of your household about the negative effects of SSBs. Show them how much sugar each drink contains by measuring out the amount of sugar in teaspoons. Then measure out how much the heart association says you should have per day (9 teaspoons for men, 6 for women and only 3 for children). Most people are having much much more than this. Also, explain how excess sugar gets stored as fat in your fat cells and liver.
5. Don’t make excuses for sports drinks. More often than not, sports drinks are expensive and bad for your child’s health. They’re still loaded with sugar after all. Keep your kids hydrated with water, it’s all they need.
The results of several studies addressing the link between SSB taxation and consumption are already out. Now it’s up to us and our respective governments to make it a reality. In addition, it’s important to realise that we have the power to control what we eat and drink. Let’s use that power wisely.