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Sugar tax will help stem the rising tide of type 2 diabetes

Sugar tax will help stem the rising tide of type 2 diabetes

Diabetes New Zealand strongly supports the recent call by DHB heads for New Zealand to introduce a sugar tax.

“Despite many government programmes to address the problem, the incidence of diabetes in New Zealand is increasing. Something much more is needed to stem this fatal tide. Diabetes NZ earnestly believes that this something is a sugar tax,” says Sir Eion Edgar, patron of Diabetes NZ.

Diabetes NZ has lodged a substantial submission to the Tax Working Group – Sugar Tax focussed on how a sugar tax can help save lives, improve quality of life, and save millions on our national health costs. (See: https://www.diabetes.org.nz/news-and-update)

Heather Verry, Chief Executive of Diabetes NZ, says, “The growing and appalling rates of type 2 diabetes in this country presents a compelling case that stronger action is now imperative.”

Some 241,000 New Zealanders suffer from diabetes and a further 100,000 people are at-risk, but as yet undiagnosed, according to a Ministry of Health report from 2016.

Diabetes significantly contributes to heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, amputations, and dental caries.

Health system costs

“The upshot of this runaway health epidemic is the spiralling costs for New Zealand’s health system,” says Ms Verry. “The growing prevalence of diabetes places a burden on our under-pressure health system that threatens to squeeze out other much-needed health care.”

The Ministry of Health reports that the total direct health costs for a person with diabetes are three times higher than those for people without diabetes.

“Multi-faceted programmes such as healthy eating in schools, exercise and greater activity in schools and communities, better food labelling and subsidised health checks are essential to combat the rising tide of diabetes. Still, we believe that intervention in the form of a sugar tax will have direct and significant benefits,” says Ms Verry.

The danger of sugary drinks

Obesity is one of the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90% of diabetes sufferers in New Zealand. While type 2 diabetes has historically been a maturity onset condition, it is now increasingly developing in children and young adults.

Research conducted in the US concluded that people who consume sugary drinks regularly – at least a can a day – have a 26% greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In the UK and USA, sugary drinks are the top calorie choice for teenagers’ diets. In the UK, consumption of sugar sweetened beverages equates to one can for every individual each day and is the largest single source of sugar for those aged 11 to 18.

In January this year, a University of Waikato study found New Zealand to be the worst country behind the UK, Australia and Canada for its proportion of sugar-laden drinks.

“In the light of this fact, Diabetes NZ proposes that the sugar tax should be levelled at the source of sugary drinks – the manufacturers and distributors,” says Ms Verry.

“A sugar tax will strike directly at reducing the harmful excess consumption of sugary drinks and focus attention on healthier nutritional choices.”

Diabetes NZ have actively advocated for schools to stop selling these drinks and for more drinking fountains to be available in public areas.
Successful UK model

Critics of a sugar tax tend to view it as a tax on consumers to prescribe buying habits. However, Diabetes NZ believe that the recently introduced UK Soft Drinks Levy is the way to go. This levy is designed to get manufacturers and distributors to reformulate the ingredients of their products. Consumers will only be impacted to the extent that manufacturers pass on their additional costs.

“Our government needs to look at the UK example. There, as here, doubts existed about introducing a sugar tax and what it might achieve. This levy has already achieved significant successes. Despite protests from manufacturers when the UK tax was introduced, all but one of them reformulated their drinks to avoid the tax by the time it took effect,” says Ms Verry.

“Diabetes NZ believe that the introduction of a sugar tax will represent the strongest possible signal that the government is serious about tackling one of this country’s most devastating health problems,” says Ms Verry.
END

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