CDA recommends tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to fight type 2 diabetes

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Citing studies that link increased sugar intake with obesity and type 2 diabetes, the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) has recommended imposition of tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) to fight type 2 diabetes and improve the health of Canadians.

The CDA explains that drinks such as non-diet pop, sweetened iced teas, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit flavoured drinks and blended coffee drinks contain large amounts of added sugar and are nutrient poor and that’s why a tax would reduce their consumption thereby helping Canadians to stay healthy.

The CDA is calling on federal leaders to make a strong commitment to reduce consumption of SSBs to promote the health of Canadians this election.

Citing other regions where such a tax has helped reduce consumption of SSBs, CDA notes that Mexico added a 10 per cent tax to drinks containing added sugar in January 2014, and saw a 6 per cent decline in purchases. Reductions were greater (9 per cent) in low-income communities, where the risk of diabetes is higher. Similar consumption declines occurred in France (3.1 per cent), Hungary (6 per cent) and Finland (3.1 per cent) after taxes were introduced.

The CDA’s approach is similar to successful campaigns in Canada and around the world that have lowered smoking rates by changing package labels, increasing education in schools, higher taxes, restrictions on advertising, and other approaches simultaneously contributed to declining tobacco use and decreased numbers of smokers in Canada. These measures have been a proven success, and smoking rates have declined dramatically.

Rick Blickstead, CDA’s President and CEO says: “The CDA wants diabetes to be part of the national election debate—including a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, establishment of a national pharmacare program and extension of the disability tax credit to Canadians of all ages living with type 1 diabetes. These measures will both help prevent type 2 diabetes and support those with the disease live to their full potential.”

The British Medical Association has also called upon authorities to introduce a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.

Experts not fully convinced

Though studies have suggested that a tax may help curb sugar intake and hence decrease in obesity and type 2 diabetes cases, experts in the field are not completely convinced.

There are those who advocate imposition of such tax while accepting is it not the only option that will help curb obesity and those on the other side of the aisle claim that imposition of taxes isn’t the way to go and that such schemes do not really help curb obesity to desired levels.

Sirpa Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, adviser at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland is a pro-tax expert who says that specific tax on sugar would reduce consumption. She bases her argument on the success achieved by countries who have already imposed such taxes and says that that is evidence that taxes on soft drinks, sugar, and snacks can change diets and improve health, especially in lower socioeconomic groups.

Jack Winkler, emeritus professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, isn’t impressed. Though he acknowledged that such taxes would be a positive development in principle, but he says that such a measure is not only politically unpalatable, but it would have to be enormous to have any effect.

Citing the development in US, Winkler notes that only one city has soft drinks taxes, while only four of 53 states in WHO-Europe have adopted food taxes, all with the stated aim of raising revenue, not improving health.

Food taxes are also economically ineffective, he adds. Two rigorous UK studies found that a 10% tax would reduce average personal daily intake by 7.5 mL (less than a sip), while a 20% tax would reduce consumption by 4 kcal. “Effects of this size will not reverse global obesity,” he argues.