Sugar tax - Our health must not be squandered

There was a time when people joked about obese Americans waddling off busses in this country.

One could recognise them without ever even hearing them speak. They were overfed, overweight, and over here.

But now the problem has become an indigenous one. Over 60% of Irish adults and 22% of children from 5 to 12 years of age are overweight or obese. This could have lifelong implications for them and for our society, because they are in danger of developing serious health problems in later life, and this will undoubtedly become a drain on our economy. Hence the problem needs to be tackled without delay.

An advisory group has suggested that Health Minister James Reilly should get the Government to put a 10% on soft drinks, biscuits, crisps, and chocolate with high sugar contents. A previous attempt to introduce a “fat tax” was undermined by fears that people would simply cross the border to buy these products.

Most people resent extra taxes, but targeting sugary non-essential foods of little or no nutritional value would be a potent way of warning people of the dangers of such food. It would be a wake-up call for individuals purchasing these foods, and doctors believe the initiative would generate a healthy debate about proper nutrition and sugar-laden foods.

Studies have shown sugar can lead to a frightening range of problems, such suppressing the immune system, weakening eyesight, causing tooth decay, contributing to heart and cardiovascular disease, and leading to a variety of cancers.

Sugar can be a silent killer and people need to be warned, but some industries have been allowed to glamourise their deadly products. They have grossly distorted the dangers with misleading advertising that is frequently directed at young people.

This country prides itself on producing healthy food, and it is imperative producers of unhealthy products should not be allowed to undermine this reputation. Energy drinks that are high in sugars are advertised as healthy, whereas the reverse is more often true, and this contributes to our growing obesity problems.

If the current trend continues, Niall Moyna of Dublin City University has warned, within a decade, people in their twenties will be presenting the clinical conditions previously associated with people in their 50s or 60s. He believes that exercise can reverse this trend.

Energy drinks are not a substitute for exercise. Food needs to be properly labelled with warning about unhealthy contents. Government should be more concerned about protecting the health of consumers than protecting the profits of corporations that peddle unhealthy food without regard to the wellbeing of their customers.

Surely society should have learned from the mistakes made with the tobacco industry, which was allowed to glamourise its products and conceal evidence of their disastrous impact for decades. Every year, around 7,000 people die from smoking-related disease in Ireland.

Those deaths were largely preventable, if government had faced up to its responsibility, but for too long it was more concerned with facilitating heartless corporations and their deadly profits. Proper labelling should now be tackled at both the national and EU levels.


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