SPC suggests junk food tax to stop obesity in children
The SPC says a junk food tax has to be considered to prevent obesity in children.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community says a junk food tax has to be considered to prevent obesity in children.
Figures from the World Health Organisation show nine out of the ten most obese countries in the world are in the Pacific with three out of four deaths reported in the Pacific due to non communicable diseases.
The SPC head, Colin Tukuitonga, told Daniela Maoate-Cox children often do not have a say in what they eat and all methods need to be looked at to stop obesity in its tracks.
COLIN TUKITONGA: Obesity is a major issue in the region and increasingly so in children and young people. And we have to try all the things that we can do to try and stop the prevalence of obesity, particularly in children and young people. Fiscal measures like taxation have to be considered and that's really what this is about; all of the interventions available to us have to be considered. How feasible it is, is of course a relevant question. We have to look at the administrative, the legislative, the policy implications of something like a tax on unhealthy food items. The general consensus appears to be that a tax on unhealthy items alongside incentives to consume more healthy items like fruit and vegetables does appear to work.
DANIELA MAOATE-COX: So is this something that the SPC is looking into?
CT: Oh we've been looking at this along with policy options for a tax on soft drinks for a number of years as part of our broader work on reducing [and] preventing NCDs (Non-communicable diseases), diabetes, and heart disease in the region.
DMC: Some countries have already introduced taxes on soft drinks, have you seen the effects of those measures?
CT: Too early to say, but we know of course from international evidence that where you tax sugar sweetened beverages you do see a decline and we are confident that that will happen. We haven't seen any evidence of that at the moment as far as I'm aware but Samoa introduced significant taxes on tobacco and they've seen a significant decline in the use of tobacco. Of course food and tobacco items are two different things but we're pretty confident that where you introduce measures like this you will see a change, I just think it's too early to see anything at the moment.
DMC: How difficult would this be for countries to roll out? There are the logistical issues of bringing in new taxes but would there also be any resistance from companies in the private sector for example?
CT: Oh I'd imagine there will be. It's totally predictable that the food industry and the advertisers will try and influence the decisions of governments. But the thing I would want to point out is there's freedom of choice that is often presented as an argument against interventions, like this, [which] applies to adults and that's fair enough. What we're talking about are children and young people who often don't have a choice and certainly do rely on the judgment of adults to do the right thing for them.
DMC: So the reasons for considering this as an idea is really aimed at children and preventing them from developing these health issues.
CT: Well that's right and that's why it has to be considered along with a whole range of other interventions that are available. It's clear to us that just educating communities and offering posters and T-shirts and so on isn't going to do it and we need to have both educational resources as well as measures such as a tax on unhealthy items.
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