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Sugar tax good for our health

Published:Wednesday | June 12, 2019 | 12:17 AM


I write to support the position of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica in its push for the implementation of a tax on sugary drinks. The prevalence of non-communicable diseases among Jamaicans is sobering. With non-communicable diseases – including diabetes, hypertension, cancers, and heart disease – being the leading cause of death among Jamaicans, it is incumbent on all of us, including the stewards of the country, to protect the health of its citizens. From a social and economic standpoint, non-communicable diseases affect everyone, at every level in every sector. The loss of lives, loss of productivity, and ballooning health-sector costs should be a strong motivation to find evidence-based solutions.

Public health is a science, not an art, subject to many schools of interpretation; and in its growing body of evidence, we have seen that interventions change the context to make individuals’ default decisions healthy, and have the most sustained impact. Evidence of this can be seen in the fluoridation of water; this has resulted in significant improvement in oral health in many nations, as well as the iodisation of salt for the prevention and control of iodine deficiency, all of which were public health initiatives.

The World Health Organization has published several case studies showing promising results in nations that have adopted a sugar tax. Mexico is a case in point, where, within the first two years of the imposition of this tax, there was an average 7.6 per cent reduction in the purchase of sugary drinks, with households in the lowest income bracket recording a 11.7 per cent reduction in the purchase of sugary drinks. A similar effect was seen in Barbados, with an increase in the consumption of bottled water.

It is understandable that there is concern about the effects of the tax on the food industry. This, however, is a golden opportunity for all stakeholders to engage in meaningful dialogue to come up with viable options to protect the sector, while keeping the health of the nation at the centre.

The fact is that the Government has a responsibility to implement policies that serve the greater good. I encourage all of us to support the efforts for a healthier nation and not focus solely on selfish interests.


Project Management Consultant