The sugar drink tax

The Davis administration is eyeing the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks.

We do not yet know the details of the level of taxation, but we understand why the government wants to move in this direction.

Back in March, we reported on the results of the 2019 survey cycle of STEPS in The Bahamas, which was carried out from January 2019 to April 2019 across New Providence, Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco, North Eleuthera, Cat Island, and Inagua.

What the findings revealed was, “The Bahamas now exceeds the regional prevalence (Region of the Americas) for overweight and obesity prevalence (71.1 percent versus 62.4 percent), and hypertension prevalence (38.2 percent versus 18 percent). The national prevalence of diabetes is 11.5 percent, but an additional 6.8 percent are prediabetic.”

The report noted 85.3 percent of the population does not meet the minimum daily intake/consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“There are high rates of fried food consumption, with more than 50 percent of the population eating fried foods up to three times each week, and another 13 percent eating four or more days each week,” the report noted.

“There is a three-times higher frequency in the daily consumption of fried foods for males compared to females. The consumption of free (added) sugars is alarming, with 60 percent of the population drinking at least two cans/bottles of a sugary beverage each day.

“This is compounded by the practice of adding sugar to tea and/or coffee. Specifically, 53 percent of the population add between two to three spoonfuls of sugar; and on average, Bahamians consume double the daily recommended amount of salt.”

Poor diet, the report noted, is paving the pathway to those who are underweight, overweight and obese, as well as to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

These factors all lead to increased risk of heart attack, cancer and stroke.

This is being exacerbated by increasing tobacco consumption.

Yesterday, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Michael Darville said the nation is on a destructive path regarding its health outcomes and the government must act.

He recognized, however, that there is likely to be pushback, particularly from local producers of sugar-sweetened beverages, and other business interests who make their profits from such products.

But, he said, “The reality is, the evidence-based research that’s coming from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is clear.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the major culprits and we see it even in our local food stores – the price of soft drinks is pretty much less than water – and without proper education, people just keep drinking it only to their demise, and they are affecting the delivery of healthcare services.

“I can tell you this much, at the Princess Margaret Hospital, the majority of patients that are recurring are those who suffer from chronic non-communicable diseases and when we look at the nutritional content of their diet, we realize that we need to do a better job as a country and find ways to change dietary behavior.”

But what impact is such a tax likely to have?

The WHO said in a 2017 report, “A major action for comprehensive programs aimed at reducing consumption of sugars is taxation of sugary drinks. Just as taxing tobacco helps to reduce tobacco use, taxing sugary drinks can help reduce consumption of sugars.”

The agency said, “Estimates suggest that, over 10 years, a tax on sugary drinks of one cent per ounce in the United States of America would result in more than US$ 17 billion in healthcare cost savings.

“Revenues raised from taxes can be used to promote the health of the population.”

The WHO added that in Mexico, two years after the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks, households with the fewest resources reduced their purchases of sugary drinks by 11.7 percent, compared to 7.6 percent for the general population.

It is important that our government implement policies to support healthy lifestyles.

Promoting physical activity from a grade school level through retirement must also be a thrust of the government.

Policymakers can also focus on improving food security and access to nutritious food.

However, as we have previously opined in this space, there is nothing the government can do to force someone to take their health seriously.

Personal responsibility will ultimately be the determining factor.

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