If you had to use one word to describe the idea of a sugar tax, it would have to be controversial.
Emotions tend to run high when it comes to matters of money, personal choice and public health. As such, there’s been hot debate on whether we should add a levy on sugary foods and beverages from both sides of the fence.
Where do we sit? Implemented thoughtfully and considerately, we’re broadly supportive of a sugar tax. Here are just a few arguments to consider.
Levelling the playing field
First off, we think the food and drink industry has waaay too much influence when it comes to how we buy food. Advertising, product placement and blatant political influence have bestowed Big Food with the power to sway our habits as consumers in ways we don’t even notice.
This power also allows them to get up to mischief behind the scenes – like adding unnecessary sugar to products in a bid to cut costs (and reduce more nutritious, more costly ingredients).
A sugar tax would, in some ways, hold the industry to account. It even has the potential to even out the playing field at industry level, by encouraging product reformulations that reduce added sugar levels – if not to improve the health of the nation, then at least to improve the bottom line.
Stats around our health are downright scary these days. In 2017–18, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey showed that two thirds of Aussie adults and almost one third of children overweight or obese. This is causing skyrocketing incidences of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
So, could a sugar tax go some way to reverse these alarming trends? The World Health Organization (WHO) seems to think so.
WHO’s Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases report recommends policies to improve weight outcomes, reduce diet-related health risk factors, and reduce the financial burden of noncommunicable diseases. In 2015, the report suggested that raising the prices on sugar-sweetened beverages (the low hanging fruit of the sugar world) by 20% would lead to a more than 20% reduction in SSB consumption. This, they say, would have significant impact on caloric intake and ultimately reduce risk for weight gain and disease.
And while the results are still coming in and the long term impacts still need to be assessed, there are real-world examples involving soft drink consumption we can start looking to.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found soft drink sales dropped 27.6% when the price of sugary drinks was increased by 20% in a 17-week trial at in Melbourne’s Alfred hospital. Bottled water sales increased by almost the same amount.
In the USA, Philadelphians are now 40 percent less likely to down a daily soda after a tax was placed on sweetened drinks in the city, while down Mexico way a Bloomberg-funded study found that soft drink sales dropped around 12 percent annually after the country imposed a soda tax in 2013.
With sugar clearly playing a major role in the obesity and lifestyle disease epidemic [LINK TO SUGAR SCIENCE], we think these early results that appear to reduce our consumption are nothing to fizz at.
One of the key arguments against a sugar tax is that taxes are in themselves regressive, impacting poorer sections of the population where higher proportions of income are spent on food.
But we would point out that the health problems associated with too much sugar and junk food disproportionately affect people in lower income brackets. Worse still, they suffer a far greater financial burden and poorer health outcomes when they are affected by disease, because they don’t have the same resources and access to care as those who earn more.
A sugar tax would have a greater impact and promote greater health benefits in lower income consumers, since they are generally more sensitive to cost. They may have the most to lose from a tax financially, but in the long-term, they have the most to gain.
On top of this, we would argue that the revenue raised from a sugar tax should be used to subsidise healthier food options like fresh fruits and vegetables (which can often be cost-prohibitive for lower-income families).
It could also be used to fund school health education programs and other healthy initiatives like outdoor public spaces, libraries and community gardens. A community that reduces sugar together, thrives together.
Let us know your thoughts on this debate below!
Image credit: http://cancercouncil.com.au