Today is World Obesity Day. It is also the day that Ireland may introduce a sugar tax as part of a multimodal attack on obesity. What will the end of the day look like?
If a sugar tax is included in the budget today, a clear signal will be sent to parents, children and everyone involved in the important role of child development that sugar-laden drinks are not healthy and should be consumed with caution if not avoided altogether. This is an important message and needs to be repeated as research from this centre has shown that a 330ml can of soft drinks per day is associated with a 1kg higher body weight at age 11. This should ring alarm bells as consuming one 330ml can a day is well on its way to becoming the norm!
Highlighting this point, Dr Joanna Purdy and Noelle Cotter will today present findings showing that half of all 13 year olds they interviewed drank a can in the last 24 hours at the time of interview. A recent report, A Spoonful of Sugar which exposes how industry has lobbied Europe, shows that over 20% of young people aged 15 and over consume soft drinks daily.
It will also send a clear signal to media outlets that sugar should not be promoted, just like tobacco and alcohol. This of course does not make it illegal, just like tobacco or alcohol, but it does put sugar-laden drinks on the side of discourage rather than encourage. Again, it promotes an important message as we know from child development psychology that up to the age of 8 children accept what they hear from others as truth/good advice, especially when an adult or an authority on TV is shown to give the impression, direct or indirect, that having sugary drinks is okay.
It will also send a message to the sports and social clubs around Ireland that it is okay to not involve sugary drinks. The hundreds of thousands of voluntary organisations that are involved in sports and other activities around Ireland are under financial pressure to continue the great work they are doing. Having vending machines and sponsorship are ways of bringing in much needed money, but this runs contrary to creating healthy minds and bodies. These organisations and the amazing people involved are committed to giving our children and young adults the best, but leaving them to negotiate with soft drinks companies causes dissonance and stress as their roles are overshadowed by the bill boards, team shirts and other merchandises promoting the virtues of a sugar sweetened drink and the association that the drinks industry believes is naturally aligned with sports!
It also sends a clear message to all presidents, principals, teachers and governing bodies that it is not healthy to have a vending machine stocked with sugar-laden drinks in the hallways of schools and colleges. Although these are also revenue-making streams that are much needed in many cases, they are not helping to reduce the risk, which according to the WHO puts Ireland on track to becoming the most obese country in Europe.
We know that childhood obesity is linked to bowel cancer in later life. We know that it also leads to diabetes and other metabolic disorders. We also know that sugar-sweetened drinks are one of the largest sources of sugar in children’s daily diet.
We also know that sugar tax works. There is empirical evidence from Mexico, which introduced a sugar tax two years ago, that it is indeed elastic and that consumption fell after the price went up.
So what happens if we don’t introduce the sugar tax?
The soft drinks industry is assured that their lobbying efforts work and that they should increase the efforts. This increases the democratic divide that was highlighted in the report A Spoonful of Sugar (which by the way is recommended reading for anyone involved in public health).
Furthermore, parents and others involved in child development are without support when helping children make sense of the commercial world that adults know so well. They are left arguing with children at checkouts, with club treasuries that they should not align with the sugar drinks industry, and with accountants and those responsible for balancing the books in schools that vending machines run contrary to their goal of providing a healthy education for their students.
The sugar tax is estimated to bring in anywhere between €50 million and €500 million depending on how it is constructed. This money could go to sports and social clubs. This money could go towards school budgets. This money could even go towards providing free fruit for every child in Ireland by utilising the School Fruit Scheme, which is an EU scheme similar to the successful School Milk Scheme.
We hope to have this available at some stage in the near future, so expect a movie night with a difference!
That Sugar Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uaWekLrilY