Sun | Apr 21, 2019

81 per cent of Jamaicans support a tax on sugary drinks

Published:Wednesday | March 13, 2019 | 12:24 AM

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) recently launched a new phase of its ongoing obesity-prevention media campaign, calling for action to support the health of Jamaican children by way of supporting a sugary-drink tax, which can help reduce child and adult consumption of sugary drinks.

Entitled ‘Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick?’, this campaign tells the truths of real Jamaicans – a type 2 diabetic, a family physician, and a dental surgeon. Each testimonial tells the real-life story from a first-person perspective of the actual and possible health consequences of excess consumption of sugary drinks: type 2 diabetes, obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and tooth decay, with an emphasis on children and young people.

“Protecting our children is priority as they are the future of our population,” said professor of public health nutrition at the University of Technology, Jamaica, Professor Fitzroy Henry. “We must continue to help them reduce their sugar consumption and prevent them from becoming overweight and obese. One such measure is to implement a sugary-drink tax.”

81 per cent of Jamaicans support a sugary-drink tax if the proceeds go towards funding obesity-prevention programmes, particularly for children. This finding is from the latest Jamaica Obesity Prevention Campaign survey, released in September 2018.

The survey also showed that 71 per cent of Jamaicans support a sugary-drink tax in general.

The World Health Organization (WHO) publication ‘Taxes on sugary drinks: Why do it?’ (2017) states that taxation on sugary drinks is an effective intervention to reduce sugar consumption. In fact, it adds, evidence shows that a tax on sugary drinks that increases prices by 20 per cent can lead to a reduction in consumption of around 20 per cent, thus preventing obesity and diabetes.

The WHO also says revenue generated by these taxes could be spent on efforts to improve healthcare systems, encourage healthier diets, and increase physical activity. This could also be used to support childhood obesity-prevention programmes.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Three out of 10 children in Jamaica are either overweight or obese, and this number is rising dramatically. Childhood obesity in Jamaica has increased by nearly 64 per cent in seven years, according to The Global School Health Survey (2017). This will have serious impacts on the future health and economic development in Jamaica.

Estimates from WHO and Unites Nations Development Programme found that Jamaica’s economy will lose more than J$77.1 billion between 2017 and 2032 due to costs of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes alone.

In addition, global health organisations like the WHO, Pan American Health Organization, and the International Diabetes Federation have warned about excessive sugar consumption as a major cause of obesity and its related diseases, as excessive sugar intake increases risk of diabetes, liver and kidney damage, heart disease, and some cancers. This underscores the importance of these public-awareness campaigns.

The ‘Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick?’ campaign will run on TV and radio, in newspapers, on social media, and on billboards. Jamaicans are encouraged to share messages about the campaign on social media using the hashtags #AreWeDrinkingOurselvesSick, #SugaryDrinksTax and #Tax4Health. They can like, comment, share or repost content from the Instagram or Facebook pages, @heartfoundationja.