Obesity has more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced support for countries who want to impose a “sugar tax” on manufacturers of sugary drinks. According to WHO, if retail prices of soft drinks are raised by 20%, there would be a decrease in consumption and consequently a boost in people’s health. Will this truly be effective? Shouldn’t such choices be made from a lifestyle change and not determined by a business tax rule? Readers debate.
No quick fix
Sugar tax is one step of many
I would support a sugar tax, not because it would directly reduce sugar consumption, but because the revenue generated could be used to educate the population about the dangers of sugar. Like with any major issue, there’s no quick fix for obesity, diabetes or other diseases associated with high sugar intake. Such health problems need to be attacked from multiple angles. For one, we cannot expect to decrease the popularity of unhealthy food and beverages if we allow them to be so freely advertised, so any form of tax should also be accompanied with restrictions that prevent so-called ‘junk food’ companies from advertising to consumers, especially to minors.
While we are ultimately responsible for our own health, there are so many business interests that profit from people making poor health choices, and these interests will use money and brainpower to influence us to make those choices. Therefore, it is perfectly rational for the government to intervene and take measures to better the health of the population, since it has a lot to gain from having a healthy society, not just from a moral standpoint, but also in terms of healthcare expenditure. Businesses should see this move as an opportunity to innovate and bring new products to the market that taste great and aren’t harmful to consumers. Access to affordable, exciting, and nutrient-dense foods and beverages that taste great is what will make the biggest difference to our food choices.
From Mr Necip Camcigil
Business owner, based in Dubai
Governments shouldn’t police our bodies
I don’t think a sugar tax will benefit anyone simply because it shouldn’t be up to the government to use monetary means to make people change their habits. Taxing sugary drinks, as the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests, only taxes a partial percentage of our actual sugar intake.
Governments shouldn’t govern our bodies. If I want to consume sugary items, I should be free to do so without having to pay extra. As adults, even if such a tax is introduced, we will find cheaper alternatives for our sugar requirements – which could lead to even unhealthier chemicals going into our bodies.
If governments truly want to get to the root cause of obesity, then they should start with the manufacturing of these products. It would be more beneficial and cheaper to wean companies off of using products high in sugar and switch to alternatives which are less harmful. The whole food industry can benefit from re-designing the food and drink production line and slowly reduce the amount of sugar and other harmful chemicals in our food.
Additionally, a few countries have implemented similar taxes on fizzy drinks, but they have not seen a large drop in obesity levels. This is because people always find alternatives to fizzy drinks which are cheaper, but also because fizzy drinks only account for less than 20% of our sugar intake. In order for a tax to be effective it would need to be implemented on a plethora of food products, which would be disastrous for the economy.
Overall, the best solution to reduce global obesity levels isn’t to introduce tax or to police our bodies. The best option for governments is to start at the beginning of the chain, with the production itself, and not at the end of it, with the consumer.
From Mr Shivam Manghnani
Accountant, based in Dubai
Governments should regulate things that negatively affect society
Sugar tax is a brilliant step taken towards a healthier generation. Drinking soda is not a necessity for human survival; it is simply a choice. Cutting out a can of soda a day would take off 300 calories off your diet, which is the equivalent to walking a moderate pace for one hour. A sugar tax would discourage people from consuming it so often, thereby improving people’s overall health.
According to Professor Colagiuri, a leading expert in diabetes screening and prevention, a sugar tax is just one way to tackle the problem of diabetes. Diabetes is only one health issue caused by sugar; insulin resistance is another issue. If there were sugar taxes, there would be cheaper and healthier options for people to choose from, benefitting people of all ages. If there is a tax imposed on cigarettes, then why not on sugary drinks? Both are harmful to our health, and both should be discouraged from our daily lifestyle.
One might say the decision of consuming sugar is up to the consumers. They argue that the motivation to change eating habits and diet should not come from governments or organizations, but should come from individuals. I believe it’s the government’s role to regulate things that affect society’s safety, including crime, drugs, unsafe driving, etc. The biggest yet most silent killer (unhealthy food) is often left unchecked. Consumers need that “push” to become healthier, and raising prices is an effective method. Due to lack of knowledge, an average person cannot judge and check all the ingredients that may be harmful. As a result, we see one in every three people with an issue with obesity or cholesterol. Once the sugar tax is introduced, people will accept the fact that it’s good and helps them lead a better and healthier life.
From Ms Sterlin Sebastian
Architect, based in Dubai
Educating public is vital, but all of society should make a combined effort to tackle the problem
Obesity and diabetes have become very common these days, thanks in part to the thousands of sugar- and salt-laden products available in every corner of the world. The media has also contributed to this problem via enticing product advertisements. Moneymaking has overpowered social responsibilities!
If the authorities did proper research regarding the impact of sugar, then these products wouldn’t have entered the market in the first place. They were initially allowed to be produced and marketed, since everyone wanted revenue. First we do the damage, then we do damage control. That’s what governments are trying to do now. Since the damage has already been done, we need to work on a ‘rescue mission’ urgently, as obesity and diabetes are now like an epidemic. Sugar tax is one such step. Price increase for sugary drinks will only be effective in reducing sugar consumption if the prices go up massively. I would definitely think twice before buying a 500 ml drink for Dh30 or more! At least the frequency of buying such products will decrease on an individual level.
More natural substitutes should hit the market at affordable cost. I don’t believe a small tax increase would push manufacturers to go ‘natural’, as it is an expensive affair for them. The government has to play a huge role by running extensive research programs that seek to increase shelf life with natural sugars without too many preservatives. Governments and manufacturers must join together to improve the situation.
However, personal choices have a huge impact, and I believe awareness is the key to tackling this health problem. Authorities and schools need to ramp up their efforts to educate the public. Parents must also share responsibility in fighting this social menace. They should teach their children about pros and cons of each food from a young age, and prohibit them from buying such products. Schools should have mandatory subject dedicated to health, so that the seed of healthy eating is sown in the minds of the young generation. School canteens should ban all ‘junk food’ products, and children should be encouraged to bring homemade food. Physical activities should also be a must.
From Ms Rachna Agarwal
Company director, based in Dubai