Fighting obesity - Sugar tax blunt but effective

The Irish Beverage Council (IBC) has called a tax on sugary drinks a “blunt instrument” in the battle against obesity.

They are perfectly correct. But blunt instruments, crude an all though they may be, work. A sledgehammer may be a disproportionate weapon to kill a fly but it will do the job. Likewise, a health levy being considered here.

According to the IBC, international experience shows that a sugar tax will not work.

“Denmark, for example, abandoned a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks after only 15 months because it was losing €38.9m in Vat due to consumers travelling to Germany or Sweden to purchase products.”

That is not entirely correct. In fact, Denmark had a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks since the 1930s.

It was its so-called ‘fat tax’ on foods with high levels of saturated fat that was abandoned after 15 months. It had planned a more general sugar tax but ruled that out as well.

IBC’s choice of Denmark is unfortunate, as a recent WHO report shows that Danish children are the least obese and overweight among a study of 42 countries. One in four Irish children are either obese or overweight.

A sugar tax of itself may not be the silver bullet that solves the problem. Education, resrictions on vending machines and product placement all have a role to play.

It may take even more than a sledgehammer to kill that fly.


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