Heart Foundation pushes for tax on sugary drinks

Heart Foundation pushes for tax on sugary drinks

Monday, February 25, 2019

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THE Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) used the launch of the fourth phase of its “Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick” campaign to push for a tax on sugary drinks.

Speaking at the launch Friday at the Half-Way-Tree Transportation Centre, Fitzroy Henry, professor of public health nutrition at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), urged Jamaicans to support a levy on sugary drinks in Jamaica.

The professor noted that he was aware that several Jamaicans have been asking the question of whether or not a sugary drinks tax has worked in other countries, and cited countries that it has been successful.

“In Mexico, sugar consumption decreased by six per cent in the first year of a sugary drinks tax and by nine per cent in the second year of the campaign,” he said.

He added: “In Barbados, sugar consumption declined by five per cent after a sugary drinks levy was implemented and bottle water sales then increased.”

The United States publication, HealthDay, in a report on the weekend said a study by the Berkeley Food Institute at the University of California found that the city of Berkeley introduced the nation’s first soda tax in 2014, and within months people were buying 21 per cent fewer sugary drinks. Three years later, the report said, 52 per cent fewer of these drinks are being sold while the consumption of water rose 29 per cent.

Professor Henry argued that sugary drinks lead to tooth decay, weight gain, obesity, and that it also increases type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and even some cancers. He added that although sugary drinks are not the only cause of obesity, they are indeed a major cause, and for this reason alone, he believes that people should be in full support of the levy.

Henry further explained that some people may want to argue that the Government should stay out of private behaviour, and that individuals should be fully in charge of what they consume, but he contended that most Jamaicans do not read labels, and for those who do, some ingredient names are not familiar.

“People are saying that this tax levy will be bad for business and that it will destroy the local sugar industry, but in other countries that have implemented a sugar tax, the loss in ‘sugar jobs’ have been replaced,” Henry said.

Other Caribbean countries, he noted, have taken the necessary precautions to protect the health of small children by imposing a sugary drink levy. Some of these countries, he said, include: Barbados, Dominica, Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago.

Henry applauded the HFJ for its efforts to combat obesity and other chronic diseases Jamaica, and implored citizens to join the foundation in the next phase of its obesity prevention campaign.

A survey in September 2018 found that nine out of 10 Jamaicans want the Government’s involvement in curbing obesity and 71 per cent support a sugary drinks tax if revenue is used for programmes to reduce obesity, especially among children.

The “Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick” campaign was created to help in the decrease of obesity in Jamaica by highlighting non-communicable diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

Some alternatives to sugary drinks include water, fresh fruit juices, coconut water, and milk.

— Shanae Stewart

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