Boffins criticise Govt's sugar tax excuse

  • 03/04/2016
Boffins criticise Govt's sugar tax excuse

More than 70 university academics are imploring the Government to slap a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks, saying there is plenty of evidence it will help fight childhood obesity.

The boffins, including experts in child health, nutrition, dentistry and diabetes, have signed an open letter to cabinet calling for it as part of stronger child obesity prevention measures, with New Zealand having the fourth highest rate of child obesity in the world.

Sugar tax hit the headlines last month when the British government made the surprise announcement it was going to introduce the tax on soft drinks in two years' time -- to tackle a growing obesity crisis.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman responded by saying there was no conclusive evidence that links a sugar tax with a decrease in obesity.

"We're keeping a watching brief on the evidence, but at the moment there's no conclusive evidence that links a sugar tax with a decrease in obesity," he said after the British announcement.

But the 74 academics say that is nonsense.

"Multiple authoritative bodies worldwide have reviewed the available evidence on sugary drinks taxes and concluded that such taxes are likely to be one of the most cost-effective interventions available," the letter says.

They also said the Government's action plan for childhood obesity, launched last year, contained 22 "soft" strategies which would not be enough to change things.

The academics said Dr Coleman would this month vote to endorse a WHO recommendation on taxing sugary drinks, but should also return home and follow that recommendation up here.

A sugary drinks tax would be expected to raise $30-$40 million which could be used to boost funding for obesity prevention programs.

There would also be money saved because every year more than 5000 children under eight require general anaesthetic operations to remove rotten teeth.