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Academics demand sugar tax

A group of public health professors from New Zealand universities have signed an open letter to the Cabinet calling for stronger child obesity prevention measures from the Government.

The group of more than 70 academics is concerned by New Zealand’s high rate of childhood obesity – the fourth highest in the world.

While they applaud the government for making childhood obesity a national health priority, its action plan of 22 soft strategies that was launched last year with no extra funding, is not sufficient to change current trends, they say.

They urge the Minister to implement a significant tax on sugary drinks as a vital measure to strengthen strategies that reduce childhood obesity and dental caries.
The letter notes that every year more than 5000 children under eight years old require general anaesthetic operations to remove rotten teeth.

Multiple authoritative bodies world-wide have reviewed the available evidence on sugary drinks taxes and concluded that such taxes are likely to be one of the most cost-effective interventions available and have recommended that they should be part of a comprehensive approach to reduce childhood obesity.

The recent WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, co-chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, recommended a tax on sugary drinks as its number two recommendation.

Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman, will vote to endorse the Commission’s recommendations at the World Health Assembly this month.

After the Minister says ‘yes’ to the WHO Commission’s report in front of world health ministers in Geneva, it would be opportune and show great leadership to come back and say ‘yes’ to one of its main recommendations in front of New Zealand children, adolescents and their parents, says the group of academics.

They agree that the evidence supporting sugary drinks taxes is stronger than the evidence for any of the 22 strategies in the government’s existing plan.
A sugary drinks tax would be expected to raise $30-$40 million which could be used to boost funding for obesity prevention programs.

The open letter calls for Cabinet to strengthen its plans to reduce childhood obesity and dental caries by introducing a 20 percent excise tax on sugary drinks.
They say that the evidence, health professionals, and the public strongly support this measure, and current and future generations of New Zealand children will be the beneficiaries of this legacy.

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