Battle over bubble tax

20:12, Feb 18 2014
Fizzy Drinks
DIET OK? Professor Tony Blakely of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, believes diet drinks should not be included in a tax on sugary soft drinks.

Would a tax on sugary drinks make you reach for a glass of water instead?

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last week says a 20 per cent tax on sugary soft drinks would prevent an estimated 67 deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diet-related cancers per year.

It would be a simple and smart move to fight obesity and related illnesses, its author Professor Tony Blakely of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago says.

"If you're thinking of one tax or subsidy on food, then this is [it]," he says.

"Sugary soft drinks are disproportionately drunk by kids.

"We've got big problems [in New Zealand] with childhood obesity," he says.


"In other countries it's plateaued out and here it hasn't - that's a real issue."

The report says Maori and Pacific Islanders would benefit the most from the tax, as they are on average more responsive to changes in food prices and are higher consumers of sugary drinks.

Prof Blakely says although the figures in the new study are "inherently uncertain", it is estimated 67 deaths per year would be avoided and a tax of 20 per cent would generate up to $40 million revenue per year to fund obesity prevention.

The numbers would be higher if sugar-sweetened cordials and fruit juice were included in the calculations, he says.

But Prof Blakely personally believes diet drinks should not be taxed.

Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand says a tax on soft drinks or other sweetened beverages will not work to fix the obesity problem on its own.

"We need to ensure people understand that when it comes to weight management, all kilojoules count, regardless of the source - and that includes our products, too."

A symposium focusing on the health effects of sugary drinks will be held at the University of Auckland today and tomorrow.

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