Health: A sugar tax will do little to change Kiwi attitudes

The government needs to do much more if it wants to make a difference to New Zealand’s appalling obesity levels than look at a sugar tax, leading New Zealand exercise expert Richard Beddie says.

Beddie, chief executive of Exercise NZ, says tax on sugary drinks is a small part of the issue and taxing processed foods would be the real end goal if Kiwis were committed to being known as an active nation.

The 2016 annual New Zealand Health Survey found that almost one in three adults aged 15 and over were obese and a further 35 percent of adults were overweight, but not obese.

Beddie says sugar is part of the obesity and type II diabetes problem, but only a small part of the Kiwi overweight issue.

“Sugar or soda taxes will do little to change behaviour and they are more about being seen to be doing something that actually making any measurable difference.

“Other countries such as Mexico and France are showing very limited effect on the tax. Soda is cheap, adding a 10 per cent tax still makes it cheap.

“For any tax to change behaviour it needs to be on all highly processed foods and then used to subsidise real food, and physical activity. In reality, this is beyond where most governments are prepared to go.

“We would also see a lot of unintended consequences. In this case one being an increase in artificial sweeteners. Replacing one bad item for another one is a flawed and dangerous approach,” Beddie says.

“Those advocating for a sugar tax often come from the exercise industry, but I’ve yet to see any economists arguing for one. Understanding how markets react to prices, and in this case relatively small increases, is what needs to be studied.

“The public should not listen to soda giants when they say they want to be part of the solution. They are part of the problem and don’t care as long as they keep selling their product.

“The worst consumables – anything that is mainly sugar with no nutritional value – is soft drink. However, keep in mind many breakfast cereals are nothing but processed rubbish and sugar too.

“The worst foods are those that pretend to be good for you but aren’t, such as many processed bars, breakfast cereals, even ultra-processed breads with a few grains thrown in claiming to be natural,” Beddie says.