Editorial: Healthy and cheap

18:21, Feb 16 2014

Most of us will have seen the poster on the wall of a waiting room - the bottle of fizzy drink and the astonishingly large heap of sugar beside it.

Dieticians and doctors, dentists and nurses, have been trying to get the message across for years - that there is a lot of sugar in your average bottle of fizz.

But still we scull the sweet, sticky liquid, and so do our children. And that's not good when it comes to our rates of childhood obesity, or of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diet-related cancers.

Education, it seems, only goes so far. Consider smoking. There's no challenging the health issues related to smoking. But the graphic photographs on cigarette packets of gangrenous toes, blackened lungs and rotting teeth are not the only tactic. Regular price increases have resulted in a decline in the number of smokers.

So - putting aside issues of addiction - there is clearly merit in hitting people in the pocket in order to change behaviours.

And that's the finding of a new study, which says a tax on sugary drinks could save lives and reduce New Zealand's obesity burden.


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

Other findings were that such a tax would generate up to $40 million revenue to fund obesity prevention - and that was allowing for a reduction in consumption because of the price rise.

The authors of this latest research say a "fizzy tax" would be an easier starting point than the controversial "fat tax", but would eventually have to be part of a larger scheme.

Anything that improves the health of our community, especially our children, should be fully explored.

But a tax on fizzy drink is only ever going to be one tool in the toolbox. There are much wider issues surrounding the type of food and drink we buy, and how much money each household has available to spend.

It doesn't take an expert to notice that many of the "bad foods" on offer are cheaper than a healthier alternative. The cost of a litre of soft drink and that of a litre of milk is a simple comparison that's often made.

It seems a bit of a shame that the most likely approach is to make it more expensive to buy the "bad" food. There is merit in looking at how we make it more affordable for families to buy the good stuff too.

The Timaru Herald