What’s being done with the sugar tax revenue?
Childhood obesity is on the rise and there does not seem to be any decline in obesity in general. Recently, The Royal Gazette reported on childhood obesity in Bermuda and as a new father, these words from the Bermuda Diabetes Association resonated with me: “… there were about 250 people who had end-stage kidney disease, with the majority on dialysis”.
For a population as small as ours, we cannot ignore these statistics.
“The rate of ESKD in Bermuda is between three and four times higher than in the United Kingdom and appears to be rising. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine has highlighted the substantial burden of kidney disease occurring in young people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, almost 55 per cent developing kidney disease.”
It is a frightening statistic given the increasing burden of type 2 diabetes and obesity in the youth of Bermuda, the Bermuda Diabetes Association said.
Both of which make you more at risk of developing a life-threatening case of Covid-19.
For the past year and a half, the Government has put a lot of elbow grease into the fight against the pandemic, but now it is time to put some of that effort into combating obesity, especially in our children.
It has been three years since the residents of Bermuda began paying sugar tax. It was supposed to serve as an incentive to encourage healthier eating. But has it been effective? Have people picked up a salad instead of a bag of cookies? Or has this been just another tax that we pay?
I challenge the Government to release its findings on the effectiveness of the sugar tax. About $5.4 million was reportedly collected by December 1, 2019. It was intended to be earmarked for health initiatives. How much additional revenue has the sugar tax raised since 2019, and how has this been used to combat obesity and encourage healthy living?
The statistics show this tax is failing in its intended purpose and clearly a change of tactic is needed. The Government is long overdue to let the residents of Bermuda know where this additional revenue is being spent and whether more effective health initiatives have been implemented.
The Minister of Health gave a vote of confidence that the sugar tax was working in 2020, based on 2019 data, but now that we see that confidence was misplaced, what does this government intend to do?
It is easier to prevent obesity than to reverse it. Here are a few suggestions for what the Government could do with the sugar tax revenue:
• Fund educational seminars in school regarding caloric intake. Teaching the youth about the effects of consuming too many calories and effective ways to manage calorie consumption
• Legislate daily periods of 15 or 30 minutes of light exercise time for all office and sedentary jobs
• Empower and add funding to school nurses. Give them funding to institute and manage health programmes with the assistance of school leadership for our students — creating unique ways to keep our students healthy, not just in PE and promoting healthy eating
• Promote a sugar-free lunch programme for preschool and primary school students
• PE Teachers encouraged to give “exercise homework” to children with the support of parents. Encourage 30 minutes of activity or light exercise at home
• Provide funding to our farmers to help them expand their operations and to lend their expertise to community gardens in each parish, where small-scale vegetable production can occur for community consumption
If we do not intend to have the sugar tax revenue funding a system-wide battle against obesity, then we may as well get rid of it! Otherwise it is just a stealth tax, hitting Bermudians where we can least afford it.
• Dwayne Robinson is a former opposition senator and was a candidate for the One Bermuda Alliance in the October 1 General Election