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Petition to tax sugary drinks can’t be ignored (again)

Aotearoa New Zealand is spending more than $20 million every year to anaesthetise children so they can undergo multiple tooth extractions as a consequence of consuming sugary drinks.

This is one of the reasons that University of Auckland academic Dr Gerhard Sundborn, on behalf of the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Panel, today launched another petition to the government to introduce a tax on sugary drinks.

He says this follows a 10,000-strong online petition presented in August 2017 that was largely ignored.

“It was extraordinary that this earlier call to tax sugary drinks, speared headed by journalist Niki Bezzant in the lead-up to the last election, was snubbed by the then Minister of Health, and by both major parties,” he says.

“The correlation between sugary drinks and health issues is very clear, and new research published earlier this month by my colleagues and I has again highlighted how much more dangerous sugar in drinks is compared with sugar in foods. That research also revealed, worryingly, that consumption of sugary drinks, specifically energy/sports drinks and juice, is still rising here. Politicians just cannot keep turning a blind eye.”

The New Zealand Beverage Guidance Panel is a group of University researchers from a range of fields, including public health, medicine and marketing, who advocate curbing New Zealanders’ consumption of sugary drinks via a targeted tax. It says a tax on sugary drinks is a top-priority action to tackle Aotearoa New Zealand’s interconnected epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes and rotten teeth.

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Worldwide, there are an estimated 184,000 premature deaths per year due to sugar-sweetened beverages, mostly from diabetes. Meanwhile, New Zealand ranks third highest in the OECD for both childhood and adult obesity.

“The New Zealand Dental Association has estimated that we spend more than $20 million every year to anaesthetise children so they can undergo multiple tooth extractions as a consequence of consuming sugary drinks,” Dr Sundborn says. “We must find more ways to address these issues.”

Taxing sugary drinks is becoming a cornerstone public health policy in many countries, including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Cook Islands and Tonga and Dr Sundborn believes there is strong public support here for a similar tax.

“The latest poll (UMR Research) from 2018 showed 65 percent overall support for a tax - and unexpectedly, the groups we know are the biggest consumers recorded the highest levels of support. This included 80 percent of the youngest age group (18-29 year olds) and 75 percent of Pasifika respondents supporting a sugary drink tax.

“The Minister of Health, Hon Dr David Clark, cannot ignore this. Neither this government nor the ones preceding it have done anything/enough to address the issue of obesity. This is just not acceptable, and it is having a significant impact on the health of New Zealanders as well as the money we are spending on remedial actions.”

A sugary drink tax is supported by a wide range of organisations including:
• Diabetes New Zealand
• Heart Foundation
• Dietitians NZ
• New Zealand Dental Association
• Public Health Association of New Zealand
• Toi Tangata
• FIZZ New Zealand • Hapai te Hauroa: Māori Public Health
• Moana Ola: Pasifika Public Health Network
• New Zealand Medical Association
• Consumer NZ
• Health Coalition Aotearoa
• Diabetes Foundation Aotearoa (formerly Diabetes Project Trust)

The petition can be found on the NZ parliament website.

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