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Could a Tax on Sugar Save Lives?

Last month the UK introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks to come into effect in 2018. Our government has stood by its stance not to introduce the tax, despite a compelling open letter signed by 74 professors from universities around NZ urging NZ to follow the UK’s lead. There is suggestions the government should listen to the experts and start treating sugar-related diseases like smoking-related cancers.

Osborne, a UK politician said: “I’m not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament doing this job and say to my children’s generation, ‘I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’.”

A Herald poll last month suggested an overwhelming public desire to introduce a sugar tax, with more than 80% of 11,700 voters in favour of new legislation.

Are all sugars bad?

No, naturally occurring sugars (such as those in fruit, vegetables and plain dairy products) aren’t harmful when eaten as whole foods in moderation. The sugars that are harmful are the ones added to food, either by ourselves or food manufacturers, as well as fruit juice and some naturally occurring syrups. It is this second group that we are consuming in alarming amounts, and that research is showing evidence of being linked to many health problems. New Zealand glugs about 85 million litres of fizzy drink a year. About a quarter of all sugar consumed by those aged between five and 18 comes from fizzy drinks. One of the known effects of sugar is tooth decay, and every year more than 5000 children under eight-years-old needed an operation to remove rotten teeth. However there are a lot of other damaging effects of excessive sugar consumption that are less known.

5 Ways Sugar Harms Your Health:

1. Obesity

Excess sugar interferes with hormones and eventually gets stored as fat. NZ has an appallingly high rate of childhood obesity, the fourth highest in the world, as well as the third-highest adult obesity rate among OECD countries – and rising. Almost one in three adult New Zealanders is obese, and one in 10 children, according to the Ministry of Health.

2. Diabetes

Because of the harmful effects of sugar on the function of insulin (which can lead to insulin reistance), it is a leading driver of type II diabetes. People who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have up to an 83% higher risk of Type II diabetes (12).

3. Pain & Inflammation

One of the biggest offenders of inflammation is ingestion of sugar. Inflammation can lead to painful joints and arthritis, as well as more systemic problems such as inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other unsolvable degenerative conditions.

4. Heart Disease

It Ain’t The Fat… It’s excessive SUGAR (aka. Carbohydrates) That Raises Your Cholesterol and Gives You Heart Disease. Check out the entertaining documentary That Sugar Film trailer to learn more.

5. Cancer

There is considerable evidence that sugar, due to its harmful effects on your immune system and metabolism, can contribute to cancer.

A study by the National Institute for Health Innovation at Auckland University, together with the University of Otago, published in the NZ Medical Journal in 2014, estimated that a 20 percent tax on fizzy drinks would “help avert or postpone about 67 deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diet-related cancers a year”. It could also “generate up to $40 million revenue a year”.

Saving 67 deaths is great but it is easy to see how our Government could see this as insignificant. There will never be a single silver bullet that will do the job single handed, does this mean that we should do nothing? What if the $40 million in revenue was invested into other supportive action, such as subsidising healthy food options or education programs. We need a combination of important, separate actions that together create a powerful tool for change.

1. The first step is to experience the benefits of reducing added sugar in your diet. I challenge you to do a 30 day challenge with your only sugar coming from fruit and vegetables. Just google ‘How to go sugar free for 30 days’ and you will find plenty of resources and personal experiences to support and inspire you.

2. The second is to sign a petition to urge our Government to consider its stance on the sugar tax. There may not be hard evidence yet of the results from sugar taxes in other countries, however there is compelling evidence to show what not taking action is doing to the health of our nation.

3. Watch That Sugar Film and other informative and entertaining documentaries to learn more.

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