Jacinda Ardern 'rules out' introduction of sugar tax despite rising numbers of diabetes

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out the introduction of a sugar tax, even though her Associate Health Minister is publicly backing the idea.

Peeni Henare's comments excited public health officials, who say a tax could address the rising number of diabetes patients.

The High Dependency Dialysis Unit at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland is overrun with diabetes patients.

"We're estimating around 45,000 people with diabetes in our area, in Counties Manukau... If you went wandering around the wards of Middlemore now you'd find about 21 percent of the patients have diabetes," Dr Gary Jackson, the director of Population Health in Counties Manukau told Newshub. 

That is one in five patients.

To prevent serious, long-term complications like amputations, Associate Health Minister, Peeni Henare, has suggested sugar taxes and warning labels on junk food.

The Prime Minister says "no" to taxes on sugary drinks.

"We've ruled that out as an option," says Ardern.

However, how added sugar is labelled on foods may be revised, "so that it goes way beyond sugary drinks".

With 40 new type-2 diabetes diagnoses each day, 250,000 Kiwis live with the condition. The estimated cost of treating it is around $1.5 billion annually.

More than 30 countries have implemented sugar taxes to address the problem - and Dr Andrea Teng from the University of Otago says they work. 

"There was a significant reduction in sugary drink purchases and dietary intake, so for every 10 percent tax, there was a 10 percent reduction in consumption of sugary drinks," she told Newshub.

Public health officials dealing with the impact are keen for preventive measures like a sugar levy, which incentivises manufacturers to reduce sugar levels.

"Tonnes and tonnes of sugar were taken out of the UK diet [with] no impact on the consumers, no extra cost, but a really major success for public health," says Dr Jackson.

A decision they don't want ruled out, because they fear for people's long-term health.