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Recent study suggests sugar tax is needed in New Zealand

Researchers from the University of Otago believe New Zealand citizens would benefit from a sugar tax to help reduce their consumption of high-sugar food and drink. (Photograph: photographyfirm/Shutterstock)

Tue. 13. November 2018


DUNEDIN, New Zealand: The debate around sugar and its ill effects on society and how to address this have taken many forms, one of the main measures being sugar tax, which has already been implemented in countries such as Belgium, Fiji, France, Mexico, Spain and the UK. A new study from the University of Otago has found that New Zealand (NZ) citizens too could benefit from such a tax, as people who consume high-sugar drinks are also more likely to make general unhealthy dietary decisions.

According to lead author Dr Kirsten Robertson, a senior lecturer at the university’s Department of Marketing, NZ has a significant problem regarding the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). “While a number of other countries have successfully implemented national taxes on SSBs, New Zealand relies on industry self-regulation and has called for better labelling so individuals can take responsibility for their own sugar intake,” she said.

However, considering recent data showing that NZ is the third most overweight nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development area and 17 per cent of adults’ total sugar intake comes from SSBs, self-regulation may not be working. In the study, the researchers surveyed more than 2,000 people, measuring their food and beverage intake over a 24-hour period and their self-reported intentions to eat healthily. Of those surveyed, 30.5 per cent had consumed SSBs in the past 24 hours. They also displayed a general pattern of unhealthy eating, as they also consumed desserts, confectionery, fast food and pre-prepared food, as well as were less likely to eat breakfast or a meal made from scratch.

“The findings raise significant concerns regarding the effectiveness of the current soft intervention measures. The fact that SSB consumers are less likely than non-SSB consumers to try to eat healthily, or to read food labels, raises serious questions about the likelihood of them changing their behaviour in response to better labelling,” commented Robertson.

Roberson believes that, since SSB consumers are less likely than non-SSB consumers to read food labels, a national tax will give some power back to individuals to be able to make healthier choices without having to refer to food labels. She noted that such measures have been shown to have little effect on industry sales and cited the example of the UK soft drink industry, which simply reformulated its products to reduce the sugar content.

“Findings in other countries suggest national taxes will encourage the industry to reformulate their products by reducing the sugar content and will encourage consumers to select other alternatives. Therefore, we support the sugar tax recommendation by the New Zealand Medical Association and the New Zealand beverage guidance panel,” said Robertson.

The study, titled “Supporting a sugar tax in New Zealand: Sugar sweetened beverage (‘fizzy drink’) consumption as a normal behaviour within the obesogenic environment”, was published in PeerJ on 19 October 2018.

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