Increasing Evidence Shows Sugar Taxes Ineffective

10 July 2018

The New Zealand Beverage Council (NZBC) says that calls for a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened beverages are misguided and there is increasing international evidence that shows sugar taxes are ineffective in reducing obesity.

Council spokesperson Stephen Jones says a major report released earlier in the year by the NZIER found that the evidence that sugar taxes improve health outcomes was weak.

“In their research, NZIER analysed 47 peer-reviewed studies and working papers relating to sugar taxes. They found that no study based on actual experience with sugar taxes has identified any impact on health outcomes.”

“In Mexico, where a tax has been in place since 2014, there has been no meaningful impact on the long-term consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or on caloric intake, and obesity rates in that country have continued to climb since the tax was introduced.

“And in Berkley, which introduced a tax in 2015, a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages has actually seen overall calorie intake increase as consumers switched from purchasing taxed soft drinks to non-taxed juices, smoothies and milk, which often contain more sugar.

“These are the reasons why they McKinsey Global Institute’s report Overcoming Obesity: An Initial economic Analysis found that taxing sugar is actually one of the least effective interventions in combatting obesity.

“Instead the Institute found the most effective measures to combat obesity include reformulating drinks, offering smaller portion sizes and providing better education, which we strongly agree with.

“The reality is that the causes of New Zealand’s increasing obesity rates are numerous and complex, and include the over-consumption of high-energy processed food, a lack of physical activity, environmental factors, parental health and genetic pre-disposition.

“It is also too simplistic to blame New Zealand’s obesity rates solely on sugar. In fact, the intake of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages fell in both New Zealand and Australia at the same time as obesity rates have been increasing.

“Since 2010, soft drink consumption has fallen by more than four percent, while sales of low and no-sugar beverages have grown by two-thirds over the past decade, and government data shows that just five percent of New Zealand adult’s calories come from non-alcoholic beverages.

“In saying this, like all food manufacturers, we know that we are part of the problem and we need to be part of the solution.

“That is why our members have taken significant steps to provide consumers with more choice, better education and improved information, allowing consumers to make more informed dietary choices.

“This includes the launch and heavy promotion of low and no-sugar varieties and our strong support of the government’s Healthy Star Rating System.

“Further, our members have pledged to only directly sell bottled water to primary and intermediate schools and to not sell sugar-sweetened beverages to secondary schools as part of our commitment to sugar free schools.

“We believe that education and nutritional literacy and increased physical activity are key to changing the obesity trends in New Zealand and that a sugar tax will do little to improve the health of New Zealanders.”