Sugar tax seen as chance to advance health
Extra cash from a proposed sugar tax should be used to boost health education, experts said yesterday. Annabel Fountain, a diabetes specialist, and the Bermuda Diabetes Association warned that use of only “a portion” of the new tax’s revenue would not be enough to tackle the health epidemic.
Dr Fountain said: “Considering the tremendous cost that diabetes and its complications has for the Bermuda community both economically and across all of society, limiting the diversion of funds gained through taxation of sugar would be short-sighted.”
She said other countries had set up “total population screening, prevention and management programmes for non-communicable diseases”.
Dr Fountain, a former director of endocrinology at the Bermuda Hospitals Board, added: “Bermuda can ill afford to continue on its current track where health expenditures are set to bankrupt our economy.
“A penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The opportunity presented by this sugar tax to support evidence-based initiatives to improve the health of our population should not be underestimated.”
This parliamentary session, MPs will debate the Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 2) Bill, which includes hikes to duty rates on sugar and sugar products.
David Burt, the Premier, outlined the Government’s commitment to the proposed sugar tax in the Budget 2018-19 and said “a portion of the revenues from the sugar tax will be earmarked for educational programmes to improve health outcomes”.
She warned: “This may not be sufficient to reach those at highest risk for chronic diseases.”
She explained that 74 per cent of Bermuda’s adult population was overweight or obese and rates of diabetes and complications were rising “exponentially”.
She said she had also treated obese children and children with type 2 diabetes.
Dr Fountain added that studies had proven that heavy sugar consumption was associated with higher rates of chronic disease, including cancer.
She said: “Taxation of sugar would send the right message to reduce consumption.”
Dr Fountain also highlighted “inappropriate taxes on water and fruit and vegetables that increase costs and deter healthy choices”.
She added: “I hope that the tax on sugar will be accompanied by reductions in the costs of healthier options.”
The legislation was tabled after the Government ran an eight-week consultation on proposed duty rate changes, which concluded that 52 per cent of the 345 respondents supported taxing the included items.
Kim Wilson, the health minister, told MPs in March that amendments had also been developed to eliminate the duty on healthy essential foods such as some fresh fruit and vegetables.
She said: “This is all in an effort to help Bermuda eat a healthier diet to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes.”
Sara Bosch de Noya, diabetes educator with the Bermuda Diabetes Association, agreed that education was a vital part of health improvement.
She said: “There is no doubt in our mind that making something more expensive may limit some people’s purchasing.
“In Bermuda, in our affluence, generally my concern is that people will still buy it if they want it.”
Ms Bosch de Noya said other countries had focused on sugary drinks and combined a tax on these with health education.
She added: “It has to come hand-in-hand with some form of education. And the education, I believe, is more impactful in the long run.
“We want the public to have a positive buy-in to this so that they, and we as health professionals, feel that there is going to be revenue coming back into education, which is vital.”
Ms Bosch de Noya said just part of the expected revenue from a sugar tax would not be enough to fund proper programmes. She added she would like to see a stronger commitment from Government.
Ms Bosch de Noya said: “For people to understand the seriousness, they’ve got to realise that the Government is putting it back into making our population healthy.”
She added: “We’ve got one opportunity to make a real impact here and we want to do it in the most productive way.
• UPDATE: This article originally stated the debate on sugar tax would take place today. It was amended to say the debate will take place during this parliamentary session.
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