Government not persuaded by health professors lobbying to introduce sugar tax

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says there's no evidence that a sugar tax reduces obesity.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says there's no evidence that a sugar tax reduces obesity.

The Government isn't fazed  by a group of health professors lobbying to introduce a tax on sugary drinks.

A group of more than 70 health academics from various New Zealand universities want more to be done about the country's high rate of childhood obesity - the fourth highest in the world.

They say the Government's action plan of "22 soft strategies that was launched last year with no extra funding" won't do anything to change the problem.

The group is urging Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to implement a "significant tax" on sugary drinks - the number two recommendation that came out of a report by the World Health Organisation Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

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But Coleman says the Government's position hasn't changed and the professors are on a "different page".

"There is still no evidence a tax would actually decrease obesity," he said.

"There is no simple answer otherwise people would have tried it."

Coleman will this month travel to Geneva to endorse the Commission's recommendations and the professors are calling for him to go one step further and implement a tax on sugary drinks.

The group agrees that the "evidence supporting sugary drinks taxes is stronger than the evidence for any of the 22 strategies in the government's existing plan".

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The professors want Cabinet to introduce a 20 per cent excise tax on sugary drinks, which they say would generate $30-$40 million that could go towards obesity prevention programmes.

Last month the United Kingdom made the surprise move to introduce a sugar-levy on soft drinks from 2018.

As recently as February the Conservative government had ruled out a tax but chose to include it as part of the Budget.

But Coleman noted there's already commentary coming out of the UK that the tax was a "revenue raising opportunity because they're struggling to balance their books".

Labour leader Andrew Little said the issue was wider than soft drinks and the country needed "to come to grips with total sugar content" in a number of foods.

At the party's annual conference in November deputy leader and health spokeswoman Annette King set out plans to make it clear to industry to cut the sugar content in foods but ruled out a sugar tax.

On Sunday Little said getting food producers to label products more carefully and making sure they reduce the sugar content was the priority and if they didn't co-operate there were other tools.

Coleman said it was telling that Labour aren't backing a sugar tax either.

However the Green Party does, and says there's already strong evidence that it limits consumption.

"It's time to start treating the disease of diabetes like smoking-related cancers and use targeted taxes to reduce consumption and pay for the damage sugary drinks are doing to the health of our children," Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said.




 - Stuff

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