Health experts call for soft drink tax to curb New Zealand obesity

( ) Updated: 2014-02-18 15:28:39

New Zealand health researchers on Friday called for a tax on sugary carbonated soft drinks in order to save lives and increase public health spending.

The call came in the run-up to a symposium hosted by the University of Auckland next week under the theme "A Sugary Drink Free Pacific by 2030?".

The researchers from the universities of Auckland and Otago estimated a 20-percent tax on fizzy drinks would reduce energy consumption by 0.2 percent a day and help avert or postpone about 67 deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diet-related cancers a year.

The health effect of such a tax would likely be greater amongst Maori and Pacific island consumers as they were more responsive to changes in food prices and amongst children and young people due to their higher consumption of such drinks.

"High sugar intakes are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease -- a strong case can therefore be made for efforts to reduce consumption," lead researcher Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu of the University of Auckland's National Institute for Health Innovation said in a statement.

"Of particular concern are sugar-sweetened soft drinks because they are nutrient poor, and energy from beverages appears less satiating than that obtained from solid foods, resulting in increased consumption."

About 17 percent of the total sugar intake of New Zealand and between 27 percent and 29 percent of total sugar consumed by 15 to 18 year-old adults came from non-alcoholic beverages.

A 20-percent tax could also generate up to 40 million NZ dollars (33.43 million U.S. dollars) each year, which could be invested in programs to improve public health, according to the researchers' calculations.

However, the Taxpayers' Union public spending watchdog group said a Danish tax on saturated fat, introduced in 2011, had been an "economic disaster" and had to be abandoned after 15 months with little effect on consumption.

"The overseas experience is that fat taxes merely lead to compensatory purchasing and brand switching," Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams said in a statement.

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