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Introducing a Sugar Tax in New Zealand

Info: 10339 words (41 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tags: Social PolicyFood and Nutrition

Biology 3.2B – introducing a sugar tax in New Zealand.

Sugar consumption is a topic that raises several controversial issues. The most common being should sugar be consumed and if so, in what amount? Unknown to people who regularly consume sugary foods and liquids, sugar exists in many different forms and all forms depending on the height of consumption effects your body differently. In New Zealand, there is no apparent tax placed on sugar and evidently the rate in which sugar is being consumed by new Zealanders is increasing in rapid rates. Although the argument to introduce a sugar tax within the country has been discussed, many new Zealanders are still not able to make a connection between the inclining obesity rates, the diabetic epidemic and the rates of which sugar is consumed. This problem arises mainly because foods high in sugar are often shown on television, in close reach at the supermarket and there is no public recognition that sugar really is bad for your health. Therefore, people are left questioning, if sugar really is bad why is it so readily available and so easy to access.

Biological concepts and processes:

Sugar exists in many forms besides just the white powdered sugar we can pick up at the supermarket. There are effects of sugar in all of its forms (including corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup) and we are consuming more of it now than ever before. The term ‘sugar’ is a generic term that refers to a number of molecules that are comprised of the three elements: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Likewise, the basic building block of a carbohydrate is a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen so essentially, sugars are also carbohydrates or ‘carbs’ for short. Just like your car needs fuel to make it run, your body needs fuel to make it go and that fuel is, carbohydrates. Found in foods like grains, fruits, beans, milk products, vegetables and sadly foods high in sugar, Carbohydrates are by far your body’s favourite and most important source of energy as they not only provide the nervous systems and muscles with energy, they also prevent the more important proteins from being used as another energy source and enable the metabolism to function. [1] However, like all the processes within the human body, carbohydrates have their own complexities around their functions and to be understood simply are classified as ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ depending on the amount of ‘sugar’ (carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) atom units are in the molecule. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar, honey and fruit have a ‘simple’ molecular structure and are only made up of one to two sugar units. [2] This mean that simple carbohydrates are either Monosaccharides or disaccharides they cannot be both. Monosaccharides are a type of simple carbohydrates that consist of only one molecule such as Glucose and Fructose, the sugars found in fruit. Disaccharides is the one other ‘simple’ carbohydrate and consists of a combination of two monosaccharide molecules. A Disaccharide carbohydrate is formed when two sugars are joined together such as Sucrose (table sugar) which is a mixture of Glucose and Fructose. [3] Complex carbohydrates are also made up of sugars, but the sugar molecules are strung together to form longer, more complex chains. [4] Referred to as ‘complex’ molecule structures complex carbohydrates are known as polysaccharides and consist of three or more sugar units. Commonly found in foods high in starch such as white potatoes and whole wheat bread these complex carbohydrates are very hard on the bodies digestive system and thus digest at a reduced rate in comparison to simple carbohydrates. however, the reduce rate in which complex carbohydrates are digested, also means that the slow break down of the molecules leaves your body with a sustained amount of energy to use throughout the day.

New Zealanders are consuming more added sugar (added in processing or preparing of foods, not naturally occurring as in fruits and fruit juices) than expert panels recommend for a healthy diet. For a very long time, medical professionals have warned the public about the dangers of sugar, but to this day, the message has not gone in. Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Pepsi are all examples of a class of drinks labelled sodas or soft drinks. People drink sodas for different reasons including; It’s cheap, tastes sweet, is conveniently packaged and easily available. However, in these sugary soft drinks the main component is sucrose, a highly refined and processed sugar made through the combination of Glucose and Fructose molecules. Although glucose is commonly found in healthy foods such as grains and vegetables and is a crucial component of the body, the huge amounts of it found in soft drinks such as coco-cola exceed the amount required by the body (approximately 30-150 gram per day). The body uses mostly carbohydrates as well as fats for energy. Because the body doesn’t store carbohydrates efficiently, they’re used first. Carbohydrates turn into glucose, which your body burns immediately or converts to glycogen to be stored in the muscles and liver for between meals. If you eat more calories from carbs or other sources than your body can use, the cells store the excess as fat and therefore, can lead to weight gain or in worse cases obesity.

Of the three major nutrients — carbohydrates, fats and proteins — the body burns carbohydrates first for energy because they can’t be stored in great quantities. [5] The metabolism of carbohydrates is the process of getting the carbohydrates in the foods we eat into the right format to provide fuel to our body’s cells. This process involves digestion, absorption and transportation. Carbohydrates are most commonly consumed as polysaccharides (e.g. starch, fibre or cellulose) or disaccharides (e.g. lactose, sucrose, galactose) however, all carbohydrates and sugars no matter the molecule structure are broken back down into Monosaccharide sugars as they are easy for your body to process. The metabolic break down of carbohydrates results in the production of Monosaccharide Glucose molecules, the bodies most efficient source of energy at the cellular level. Although people regularly consume Glucose in their day-to-day lives, people do not understand the importance of it. Glucose, not only serves as the primary energy source for working muscles, but helps the brain and the nervous system function whilst ensuring the body uses stored fat more efficiently. [6]

The human body has an efficient and complex system of storing and preserving energy. Once carbohydrates are broken down into their simplest form, such as Glucose it is transported through the wall of the small intestine into the portal vein which then takes it straight to the liver. From here, the cells use the Glucose in aerobic respiration to produce Adenosine Triphosphate energy. Also known as ATP energy, Adenosine Triphosphate is considered by biologists to be the energy currency of life as it enables our cells to function. When food is consumed, large quantities of Glucose molecules are transported throughout the body and to the cells that need them most. However, like everything our bodies need to be fuelled all throughout the day, not just when food is consumed. For this reason, once glucose is inside the liver, it is further metabolized into triglycerides, fatty acids, glycogen or energy. Glycogen is the form in which the body stores glucose. Due to the fact that glucose is the primary energy source for the central nervous system, it is tightly regulated, therefore if blood glucose levels start to get low because you have not consumed food for a period of time, the liver is able to covert glycogen back into glucose and release it into the bloodstream to maintain healthy levels. However, the liver can only store about 100 grams of glucose in the form of glycogen and although the muscles can also store glycogen they can only store approximately 500 grams. Due to the limited storage areas, any carbohydrates that are consumed beyond the storage capacity are converted to and stored as fat. [7] When carbohydrates and dietary fats are stored they tend to accumulate in two places — as subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is found under the skin, while visceral fat collects within the abdomen in the spaces around organs. [8] Any type of stored fat is dangerous because it increases your risk of developing health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The human body wants blood glucose (blood sugar) maintained in a very narrow range. Insulin and glucagon are the hormones which make this happen. Both insulin and glucagon are secreted from the pancreas, and thus are referred to as pancreatic endocrine hormones. The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen and it plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. The pancreas has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar. When nutrients are absorbed the Beta-cells inside the Pancreas secrete insulin which is carried through the blood stream to the liver. Insulin is a very important hormone for homeostasis at it allows the body to maintain a stable internal environment by causing the liver to convert more glucose into glycogen, a process called glycogenesis. This process prevents excess glucose molecules from entering the bloodstream and increasing blood sugar levels. Although there is always a low level of insulin secreted by the pancreas, the amount secreted into the blood increases as blood glucose levels rise. Similarly, as blood glucose levels fall, the amount of insulin secreted by the pancreatic beta-cells goes down. However, when the body does not receive the required amount of nutrients per day the pancreas releases another hormone, Glucagon. This hormone allows the cells within the liver to covert the stored glycogen back into Glucose which can then be released back into the blood stream and, return blood sugar levels back to normal. However, although insulin is always secreted in low levels, in cases where individuals are consuming to much sugar in their diet and become obese the excess glucose and fat stored in the body can put extra pressure on the Beta-cells located in the Pancreas and consequently, not enough insulin is produced to maintain the Glucose levels. When this occurs, it is identified as type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is described simply as a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar (glucose) levels. Although type 2 diabetes can be controlled by clean eating and exercise, diabetes is New Zealand’s largest and fastest growing health issue and is closely linked with heart disease and together they are responsible for the deaths of more New Zealanders each year than cigarettes. Many of these deaths were preventable. [9]

Implications of the sugar tax:

Biological: Governments can take several actions to improve availability and access to healthy foods and therefore, have a positive influence on the food people choose to consume. A major action for comprehensive programmes aimed at reducing consumption of sugars is taxation of sugary drinks. Essentially, by increasing the tax placed on drinks high in sugar, the availability to consume them will decrease and thus the number of individuals diagnosed and effected by diseases and conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and other conditions that stem from these two such as tooth decay, high blood pressure etc. will decrease.

Biological implications are anything that is related or has a clear connection to the internal functions of the body and is simply explained as anything that ‘relates to the biological structure of living organisms.’ The most crucial aspect of introducing a sugar tax in New Zealand is the decrease in obesity and type 2 diabetes diagnoses. Out of a total estimated population of 4.3 million in 2008, the New Zealand’s Ministry of Health’s studies showed that roughly 1.13 million New Zealand adults were overweight with a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9, with an extra 826,000 being obese (BMI over 30.0). [10] As mentioned previously in the biological concepts and processes of sugar in the body, drinks high in sugar such as Coco-Cola, which many experts believe to be a large factor contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic, has large quantities of sucrose. This highly refined, processed sugar produced when the Monosaccharides Sugars, Glucose and Fructose are combined is extremely harmful on the body as the Glucose and Fructose levels present often exceed the bodies required amounts for both energy and Glycogen storage. When this process occurs, and the body receives to much glucose for both energy and storage requirements it is converted to fat and tends to accumulate as subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Both these types of fat can put extreme amounts of pressure onto the body as it covers the muscles underneath the skin and surrounds the vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas. [11] When an individual’s BMI exceeds 30.0, which is calculated by dividing your weight, in kilograms, by your height, in metres squared, they are considered obese. Obesity is very common condition which is characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body and can lead to serious health effects. Although there is no apparent confusion around the fact that excessive fat is linked to other health conditions, people do not seem to understand the serious nature of these conditions. Being overweight and obesity are known to increase blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes. Excess weight also increases the chances of developing other problems linked to strokes, including high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and heart disease. However, obesity also has a clear connection with Gallbladder disease, Osteoarthritis (the breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint), breathing problems and more significantly type 2 diabetes. As recorded by the New Zealand ministry of health, from October 2015, more than 257,000 New Zealanders lived with diabetes. [12]  Although there are two types of diabetes, type two diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes (around 90% of worldwide cases of diabetes are thought to be type 2). Type 2 diabetes occurs either when the body is not responding properly to insulin (called insulin resistance) or when the body is not producing enough insulin to control the blood glucose levels within the body. Although initially, type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes by medical professionals as it most often occurs in adulthood (18 and over) with the increased rates of childhood obesity, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents. (18 and under). By introducing a sugar tax within New Zealand, more significantly on soft drinks that contain large quantities of sugar (sucrose) the hope is that it will make them less-accessible for an average New Zealand family. By doing this, less soft drinks will be consumed and thus decrease and prevent others from being diagnosed with obesity and or diabetes.

Economical: Economy is the process or system by which goods and services are produced, sold, and bought in a country or region. To be described simply, economic implications are those that affect the productive system of a territory/business and or the ability to purchase goods generally in a negative way. With a standard bottle of Coco-Cola (1.5L), the main contributor to both obesity and the Diabetes epidemic, costing approximately $3.39 with bigger bottles (2.25L) costing approximately $3.50 in the majority of New Zealand supermarkets, the price to consume drinks high in the sugar sucrose, a highly refined, processed sugar that poses several health risks is extremely low. Not only does the sugar Sucrose which is eventually broken down into two monosaccharide sugars Glucose and Fructose by the body increase the risk of obesity it also increases the likely hood of developing type 2 diabetes. Introducing a tax in New Zealand will essentially increase the price of soft drinks and therefore make them less accessible. Although, this idea has already been implemented in countries like the United Kingdom and Mexico, sugar tax has to this day, not been enforced in New Zealand. This is not only due to the fact that, everyday new Zealanders make the choice to drink soft drinks over water and therefore creates the possibility that placing a tax on sugar will not deter some people but also because as the price of sugary foods and beverages increase, which is often, if not always cheapest, it opens the door for fresh produce foods such as fruit, vegetables, bread, milk and eggs too also increase in order to compete. Although the main purpose of this tax is to make it difficult for families and individuals to consume soft drinks high in sugar, introducing this tax, with the possibility that fresh produce will increase, essentially means it will be extremely difficult for individuals in New Zealand to eat in general. Taking into account the socio-economical structure of New Zealand, which concerns the way in which social aspects of society interact with the economic factors such as food prices, introducing a tax will tend to have the greatest effect on those who are financially challenged. This will not only result in high socio-economic families being able to still afford and consume soft drinks but by decreasing the number of New Zealanders being classified as obese and diagnosed with diabetes, the number of those living in poverty will increase, which like obesity and diabetes is a growing issue in New Zealand. However, the purpose of this sugar tax still has the possibility to be great, although some families will still be able to afford soft drinks no matter the price change, those who are financially challenged, who according to figures from the Health & Social Care Information Centre show that 25% of children in poorer areas are obese, compared to about 11% in more affluent areas [13] reinforces the idea that those who are financially challenged are the ones that tend to consume the most sugar and therefore this tax will help to ensure the families who consume the most are affected the most.

Although there are several negative aspects to introducing a sugar tax in New Zealand, in terms of the economy, there is no doubt some positives also. Although the argument that introducing a sugar tax in New Zealand will only hand more money to the government is true, in-order-to get this scheme underway, it will require a lot of government expenditure and therefore, the money generated from this preferred sugar tax will just replace the money the government has already put in. Also, as research shows implementing a sugar tax increase of 20 per cent the government can expect to generate up to $40 million dollars revenue per year. [14] Therefore, sugar tax will not only help to decrease the rate in which sugar drinks are consumed but the generated revenue will help to fund, if not fully fund, programmes and further initiatives to educate new Zealander about the harmful effects sugar has on the body such as obesity and diabetes. Further down the track, once new Zealanders are informed about the harm sugar can do to the body, the excess revenue can also be put towards funding weight loss programmes to help those who have a BMI over 30.0 and are considered obese due to the over consumption of sugar and also help to open diabetes clinics in order to help those who already suffer from the condition prior to the sugar tax being introduced.

Environmental: Amenity; habitat; and ecological are three general classes of environmental implications. However, Environmental implication can be described simply as the possible adverse effects caused by a development, industrial, or infrastructural project or by the release of a substance in the environment. In terms of sugar tax, introducing one in New Zealand will not only mean the manufacturing of plastic bottles that contain soft drinks will decrease due to the little demand for them (due to cost restrictions) but the chemicals and imperishable materials such as plastic will not be released into the environment as often through litter and rubbish dumps. Although in New Zealand, the philosophy ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ plays a significant role in our ‘clean and green’ New Zealand image not all plastic substances can be recycled in a way that does not harm the environment. Even though the plastic that is modelled into soft drink bottles is recyclable, this only occurs when members of the public take the time to sort out their rubbish and thus recycle. As it states on [15] Not all waste is recycled. A lot is still sent to landfills or is straying into our environment which, known to most new Zealanders, has extremely harmful effects on marine life. At least 267 species worldwide have been impacted by ‘Marine plastic pollution’ including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species. [16] Currently, in New Zealand plastic bottle tops are not recyclable, and as with plastic bags they often end up at the bottom of the ocean, and in the stomachs of a variety of animal species that mistake them for food. [17] One albatross that was recently found dead on a Hawaiian island had a stomach full of 119 bottle caps. [18] Although this incident did not occur within New Zealand, it helps to highlight the way in which marine species are affected by plastic bottles and other products associated with them. To put it simply, plastic is the leading cause of marine deaths. Even though sugar tax is being discussed to reduce the rate in which sugar is consumed and thus the number of obesity and diabetes diagnosis within New Zealand, introducing this tax will also help to ensure a decrease in the number of marine species harmed by bottles created for the containment of soft drinks and thus have positive effects on the environment.

As a further research study by the Packaging Council of New Zealand discovered, New Zealanders consume about 735 thousand tonnes of packaging every year and recycle only about 58% of it. With 97% of New Zealanders having access to facilities to recycle paper, glass, cans and plastics. [19] More shocking, New Zealand environmental experts believe, if not intervened by schemes such as sugar tax, the annual amount of recyclable waste disposed to landfills will almost double within the next 10 years in Auckland alone (an increase from 1.5 million tonnes of waste to 3 million tonnes of waste). [20] There is no doubt that Plastic waste is major problem within New Zealand however, many new Zealanders are still not able to comprehend just how bad this issue is with Approximately 252,000 tonnes of plastic waste being disposed in New Zealand landfills each year the hope is, that this sugar tax, will not only reduce the biological effects such as obesity and diabetes but help to decrease the number of plastic bottles being produced and thus the effects littering has on the environment.

Cultural/ethical: To put it simply, Cultural implications are things such as laws and or social requirements that go against a person’s culture. Although ethical and cultural are two different things in terms of well-being, they are often perceived the same way. However, in terms of ethical implications it is simply described as ‘pertaining to the action of dealing with morals or the principles of morality in relation to right and wrong’. One of the main talking points from the recent New Zealand obesity debate, was the announcement of a tax on sugary soft drinks. Introduced into Mexico on the 5th of January 2014, the country became known as the only country worldwide with a tax imposed of sugary drinks. Although, the tax in Mexico was imposed on any beverages with added syrup, powder, sugar, flavour extract or caloric sweeteners the idea of introducing a similar tax in New Zealand sparked from this country’s major leap of faith. Within the same year of this tax being applied (2014), Mexico recorded on average, a 6% drop in sugary drink purchases which by the end of the year had increased to 12%. Among the poorest households, the annual average sale of sugary drinks dropped by 9% and by December 2014, sales had decreased by 17%. On top of this, Sales of bottled water and beverages with no added sugar increased by 4%. However, although Mexico’s statistics show that the tax could potentially reduce the consumption of sugar soft drink and in turn increase the consumption of water there is no assurance New Zealand will have the same results due to the country’s cultural diversity. New Zealand’s ethnic make-up is continually changing with 4.7 million living in New Zealand as of 2015, 74 percent identified as New Zealand European, 14.9 percent identified as Maori and 7.4 identified as pacific islander. These three cultures are the essential make-up of the country and although there are no biological links between different cultures and sugar consumption, it is clear through other factors such as the economic structure that different cultures are affected by sugar differently. As recorded by the New Zealand ministry of health, approximately 47% of all Maori adults and 66% of all pacific adults were obese compared to 36% nationwide. Due to this, although the proposed sugar tax will help to reduce the number of Maori and Pacifica people consuming large quantities of sugar through soft drinks as they, according to the figures, contribute the most to the obesity rates, imposing it can be considered culturally insensitive or in extreme cases racist as it will affect a large percentage of the Maori and Pacifica populations compared to that of Pakeha.

View Points: Medical professionals and the New Zealand government.

The issue of introducing a sugar tax in New Zealand has created a lot of controversy between those who support it or oppose it. The act of implementing this tax however, has largely been brought about by medical/health professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, and more specifically, doctors that deal with the consequences of sugar consumption on a regular basis such as endocrinologists. (physicians who specializes in treating disorders of the endocrine system such as diabetes). As recorded by the NZ Doctor magazine, a recent poll (2016) showed more than 84 per cent of New Zealand doctors backed a sugar tax. [21] These figures not only highlight the number of doctors that are pressing for a change in the way sugary drinks are consumed but as the chairman for the medical association said, the poll reflects the impact sugary drinks are having on the health system including the myriad of health problems associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental issues. [22] On top this, as of the 2nd of April 2016, 70 medical specialists including frontline care workers and professors called on the Government to introduce a sugar tax into New Zealand through an open letter that addressed the appalling high rate of childhood of obesity. In the signed letter, several medical professionals, led by the spokesman, Boyd Swinburn, argued the current action plan of 22 strategies stating it is “soft” and aggressive actions such a sugar tax would help yield greater progress. [23] As the Ministry of Health statistics declared one in nine New Zealand children, and almost one in three adults, are considered obese, with rates on the rise. [24] It is these figures as well as the fact that Mexico and Britain have already implemented a sugar tax that prompted this group to take action against the government and their current schemes. However, a Herald poll taken in May 2016 also suggested an overwhelming public desire to introduce a sugar tax, with more than 80% of 11,700 voters in favour of new legislation. [25] This nationwide issue, Boyd Swinburn and other medical experts believe needs to be addressed more closely by the government and serious notice needs to be taken to its effects. The dentist industry of New Zealand has also seen a dramatic incline in the number of individuals being treated for cavities caused by sugar consumption. Similarly, to medical professional, New Zealand dentists have also called for a sugary drinks tax. As the New Zealand Dental Association spokesperson Dr Rob Beaglehole stated, the results by introducing a sugar tax in Mexico should not be ignored. With a paper published in the journal ‘PLOS medicine’ showing nearly a 10 percent cut in the number of individuals consuming sugary drink and a 16 percent increase in bottled water purchases. Dr Beaglehole clearly holds a strong view that New Zealand could build upon Mexico’s results. To back up this view, health researcher Dr Gerhard Sundborn stated, “The issue of sugary drinks intake is urgent, considering our high rates of dental health problems as well as child and adult obesity and diabetes.” [26] Both New Zealand medical experts and dentists clearly hold the view that implementing a sugar tax within the country will have positive effects. This view is followed by both groups recalling Health Minister Jonathan Cole­man’s view that there is no evidence to suggest a tax would cut sugary drink consumption. With nearly 70 per cent of the 146 doctors polled rejected Cole-man’s view it is apparent that doctors are rightly concerned about the health effects of excessive sugar consumption and as the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative ‘right-wing think-tank’ Oliver Hartwich, stated “This is why a large majority of health professionals support a tax on sugary drinks.” [27] These two groups, although deal with slightly different biological effects e.g. body and teeth both believe that the sugar tax is the best and most financially viable option to improve the obesity and diabetes epidemic. As although Health minister, Jonathan Cole­man’s view may also hold merit, as there may not be a substantial amount of evidence to suggest that the introduction of a sugar tax will be effective the New Zealand government will not know for sure unless they attempt to give it a go.

Just like euthanasia, introducing a sugar tax in New Zealand has been a very debated topic with medical professionals and the New Zealand government frequently discussing the importance and effectiveness of it. Although both groups have their own view points on this issue, the New Zealand government and the ministry of health tend to have the final say which to this day has been against. Being at the centre of this debate, health minister, Jonathan Cole­man with the support of the New Zealand government has publicly expressed his beliefs that the proposed sugar tax would not yield the results that many New Zealanders and medical professionals are expecting. Despite several groups of medical professionals on different occasions calling on the Government to introduce a sugar tax due to the appallingly high rate of childhood obesity and other sugar caused diseases Cole-man has remained firm with his stance with the Government having no plans for a similar measure present in the United Kingdom and Mexico. On top of this, Cole-man stands beside the 22 strategies currently in place to counteract obesity, stating “there’s no single solution that will fix obesity. We’ve [the government] implemented a Childhood Obesity Plan with a range of interventions across Government, the private sector, communities, schools and families.” [28] However, although Cole-man together with the government are not respecting the majority of New Zealand’s wishes with a Herald poll taken in May 2016 suggesting an overwhelming public desire to introduce a sugar tax, with more than 80% of 11,700 voters in favour of new legislation it is important to understand that although they are not for the sugar tax they are not oblivious to the effects obesity is having on New Zealand and its people. Even though, medical professionals have the best interests of their patients in heart, the government strongly believes that there is an apparent lack of evidence to suggest that implementing a sugary drinks tax will yield effective results for both new Zealanders and the government in the long-run. As Cole-man stated in an interview, “there is no one silver bullet that is going to solve this. I know that the United Kingdom have gone ahead [with a sugar tax], but the best advice I’ve had is that the evidence at this point is not definitive.” [29] The New Zealand government, from the statements included above clearly hold the opinion that a sugary drinks tax would be unnecessary and more importantly they are not convinced that a sugar tax will be effective in counteracting the obesity and diabetes epidemic- quicker or more efficiently that the current 22 strategies in place.

The consideration of bias: Medical professionals and the New Zealand government.

When reflecting upon an opinion or point of view, the impact of personal beliefs and agendas can greatly impact the way in which individuals or groups respond. Bias is scientifically described as the act of allowing prejudice thoughts to shape your view through the strong inclination of the mind or a preconceived opinion about something or someone. Bias can be favourable or unfavourable, which in terms of the sugar tax argument, individuals can be for or against the idea of introducing it in New Zealand. When examining any sort of argument where perspectives play a vital role, it is important to consider the effect(s) bias may have and how bias can interfere with the validity of an opinion. In relation to the perspective of New Zealand health experts, the idea that implementing a sugar tax within New Zealand will help to reduce or solve the obesity and diabetes epidemic is justifiable as they not only have medical knowledge of these two conditions but know that sugar is a major cause. However, due to their job obligations to help their patients, the medical professionals who are calling for a sugar tax may not be considering other factors such as the economic pressure that would be placed on the New Zealand government in order to get this scheme underway. Due to this, it is logical to assume that although they have the best interest of their patients at heart when arguing this idea, the desperation to solve the obesity rates and the diabetes epidemic apparent in New Zealand’s society may cloud their judgement when it comes to how effective the tax will be in the long-run. However, after closely analysing the perspective held by the medical experts pushing for this sugar tax, I personally believe that although there may be bias in terms of the relationship between the New Zealand government and themselves, due to the medical sector’s beliefs that the New Zealand government is not doing all they can to improve the access and affordability of the medical sector, bias does not interfere with their opinion concerning the way in which obesity and diabetes are controlled in the new Zealand health care system. Not only do these medical professionals have a clear understanding on the biological effects sugar can have on the body but they also stand to lose more if the sugar tax scheme was successful. If the New Zealand government decides to implement a sugar tax within New Zealand, as the price of sugary soft drinks rise, the availability decreases and as a result, the health conditions that stem from sugar consumption such as obesity and diabetes will also decrease. As senior researcher at Auckland University Dr Gerhard Sundborn said “New Zealand has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the developed world” [30] this fact not only means that for one, obesity has a huge effect on our country but, if a sugar tax was introduced and these conditions were controlled there will be less need for health care around these issues and therefore, medical professionals especially those who specify in obesity or diabetes such as endocrinologists will lose hours and overall the health sector of New Zealand will lose income

In contrast, the New Zealand government although their perspective also has the potential to be controlled by bias opinions, after close analysis, I personally believe their point is valid. It is valid in the sense that although medical experts are in control of supporting and speaking for the health care system, the New Zealand government, and more specifically the Minister of Health Jonathan Cole-man, is charge of balancing the economy and the backlash if the proposed sugar tax was to fall through. Due to this, although the figures show that a large percentage of New Zealanders support a law change to allow a sugar tax, and medical experts also back it, it is important to understand that the government has to look at all factors in a collective view. I also believe that the governments statement that there is not enough evidence to suggest the sugar tax will be successful is also valid. This stance is validated by the fact that the statistic the Medical sector are using to back up their argument, although from Mexico where a sugar tax is already implemented, and show positive results were only taken from the first year the tax was introduced and therefore, is not concrete evidence to suggest that implementing a sugar tax will be effective long term. However, when considering the governments whole argument, it could be subjected to bias as they will have an agenda to push through to the public. This agenda will simply be to emphasise that their current 22 strategies already in place to counteract obesity are just as effectives as the proposed sugar tax. If the government where to accept the fact that the sugar tax would be an effective measure, although the majority of New Zealanders are pushing for it, it opens the door for the public to second guess the governments initial and future plans and effect the way their future voters vote. Due to this, I personally believe that even if the government truly believed that the sugar tax was an effective solution to both the obesity and diabetes epidemic they may choose to withhold the legislation to make it legal in-order-to instil confidence in their voters and give off the impression that they have everything in order.

My View: Implementing a sugar tax in New Zealand.

After researching about the option of implementing a sugar tax in New Zealand and discovering the harmful effects sugar can have on the body, environment, economy and society I still hold the personal view that introducing a sugar tax will be not be an effective measure in counteracting the obesity and diabetes epidemic. However, I strongly believe that the 22 strategies currently in place by the government to counteract obesity is not effective either and something needs to be changed.

One of the main factors contributing to my view that the introduction of a sugar tax will not be affected is the fact that the proposed tax increase of 20% on sugary drinks will not increase the end price enough to deter people from consuming them. In an open letter that 74 New Zealand health academics signed, they called on the government to introduce a 20% tax excise tax on soft drinks in the next budget. However, like I mentioned above, a standard bottle of Coco-Cola (1.5L), costs approximately $3.39 in the majority of New Zealand supermarkets with bigger bottles (2.25L) costing approximately $3.00 [31] implementing a sugar tax of 20% will not do much to increase the price. To be exact, placing a 20% tax increase of fizzy drinks such as coco-cola, which according to a research study done in 2014 is consumed by one quarter of New Zealand’s population, will only increase the consumer price to approximately $4.68 for a standard bottle and approximately $3.60 for a big one. Not including the fact that, even with the imposed tax increase, a 2.5L bottle of Coco-Cola still works out cheaper than a 1.5L and therefore it is still cheaper to consume larger quantities of sugar, everyday new Zealanders make the logical decision to drink soft drinks over water or other liquids and a couple of cents difference is not going to deter people from drinking them in the future. Even for individuals or families who are financially challenged or in low-socioeconomic areas the price increase will just likely lead them to buy less healthy foods such as bread, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables in order to afford the desired soft drink. This, although most New Zealanders even now know that sugar can harm the body in large servings, the decision to consume it is not always controlled by personal choice. The biological effects sugar consumption can have on the body can eventually lead to a feeling resembling that of addiction if not consumed regularly. As scientific research discovered, sugar is in fact addictive and stimulates the same pleasure centres of the brain as ‘hard-core’ drugs such as Cocaine and Heroin. More concerning is the fact that, like these hard-core drugs, getting off sugar can lead to withdrawals and cravings [32] which many people overcome by consuming more and more sugar through things such as soft drinks. However, as the fact still stands, I personally believe that the sugar tax that many New Zealanders and even medical experts are pushing for will not increase the price of soft drinks enough to deter people from purchasing them and therefore will not help to solve the Obesity and or Diabetes epidemic. To back this up, Mexico introduced a sugar tax in 2014 which only showed a 0.39% decrease in the amount of drinks that were covered by the tax, [33] this statistic helps to reinforce my view that introducing a tax of 20% will only mean a change in a couple of cent in terms of price and therefore is not a significant enough increase to deter New Zealanders from purchasing and consuming soft drinks.

The other contributing factor when it comes to my point of view on a sugar tax in New Zealand is the fact that placing a tax on soft drinks will not be affected enough as soft drinks are only half the problem. Soft drinks are clearly a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic but, I do not believe increasing the price on soft drinks, in an attempt to reduce the consumption will completely solve the epidemic epically when other foods on the supermarkets shelves are just as high in sugar. Individuals do not become obese by just solely consuming soft drinks, processed foods such as bread, cheese, cakes, biscuits, chips and meats like salami and ham also contribute greatly. These processed foods, and many others have large quantities of sugar in them as well as other harmful ingredients like fats and sodium. Processed foods pose serious biological risks to the body as they are created using chemicals to help preservation and easy preparation. Sadly, in today’s society our bodies have become accustom to these processed foods mainly due to the fact that New Zealanders are not aware of what processed foods are and how they are harmful. If the government and Medical experts were to compare the overall consumption rate of processed food and soft drinks, there would no doubt be a substantial difference in the rate of consumption due to the fact that people consume processed foods on a daily basis. As a research based study by Otago university researchers discovered, Honey, Muesli bars, whole milk, tomato sauce and frozen yoghurt are all heavy calorie and low nutrient [34] foods that New Zealanders tend to be believe are ‘healthy’. This although shows that obesity is caused by several factors help to further reinforce my idea that placing a tax of soft drinks will only solve a small portion of New Zealand’s problems. On top of this, in another research based study by the ‘New Zealand National Nutrition Institute’ it was discovered that out of 4,721 New Zealanders studied 9.9% of their total energy intake (calories) came from added sugar with only 16% of that intake coming from non-alcoholic beverages. [35] I also personally believe if the government really wishes to see a significant decrease in the obesity and diabetes epidemic they should place tax on processed foods instead of soft drinks as new Zealanders consume more processed foods in comparison to soft drinks and therefore it is logical to assume that processed foods contribute more to obesity. Due to this, I do not see a sugar tax as an efficient way of counteracting obesity in the long run.

Proposed Action: to counteract obesity and the diabetes epidemic. 

Obesity and diabetes are two very serious health conditions in New Zealand and although I do not believe the government’s 22 strategies currently in place are effective in counteracting them, I do not believe the act of introducing a sugar tax will be effective either. In terms of the actions I believe the key to combating the obesity and diabetes is educating New Zealanders about the harmful effects large quantities of sugar and processed foods have on the body and I also believe the price of fresh produce such as eggs, fruit, milk and vegetables should be reduced.

Implementing a sugar tax in New Zealand will take a substantial amount of government expenditure, and although the public argue that the government will make their money back through revenue this will only happen if the tax was successful and even then, it will take a long period of time to generate. I personally believe, with my position against the imposition of a tax on sugar, that the money the public expects to go towards introducing the tax should go towards funding education programmes where people can learn about the harmful effects sugar can have on the body. These education programmes will not only give the public the opportunity to understand the different types of sugars and what foods they are in, how they are processed in the body and how this process can lead to obesity and eventually diabetes, but these government funded programmes will also give New Zealanders the chance to make their own choice about consuming foods high in sugar with the knowledge behind them instead of taking the choice away from them all together. There is no doubt that education, no matter the focus, is very beneficial. However, like everything in order for education programmes to be effected and convince people to change their lifestyle habits they also need to be organised in a way that accesses those from different age groups and cultures, because although obesity and type 2 diabetes (the most harmful one) mostly effects adults of Pacifica or Maori decent the risk to develop these two conditions is still there for everyone and thus the education programmes should also be available to those is high socio-economic areas. Although implementing education programmes will take careful planning and a lot of money from the government implementing a sugar tax will take just as much time and just as much money but to my belief will not be as long lasting. Sugar tax is not the only form of tax the New Zealand government has or has been asked to implement, the government proposed to raise tobacco excise by 10 per cent annually in their 2012 budget [36] which the government implemented in 2013 however, despite the fact that the tax has already tripled since 2012, smoking rates have only dropped by 1.3 percent. Although smoking and sugar are not connected, the tax placed on cigarettes was introduced for the same reasons a tax on sugar is being discussed: to reduce consumption. However, with a packet of smokes costing nearly $30 dollars a packet, and people still making the choice to smoke them, increasing the price of soft drinks by a couple of cents is not going to change anything especially considering the fact that individuals make the choice to drink soft drinks over water. Taking into consideration this, I believe education programmes are something, that if they are done right at the beginning will be effective long-term. If the government can successfully educate the current population of New Zealand about sugar and therefore, change the way in which they approach sugary foods and beverages in their diets will not only directly affect those that participate in the programmes, but the knowledge shared can be passed down to future generations. As currently seen on the television, campaigns to overcome gambling, alcoholism and depression are covered between shows, in terms of the sugar tax, in order to get the education programmes underway, the government could create a campaign that can be put in the newspaper on social media and on television. If placed in between the News and T.V shows that both adults and adolescent are likely to watch the campaign will get maximum coverage to be able to illustrate the effects of certain foods on the body whilst suggesting pamphlets and maybe even a website to visit so viewers can become more informed and be provided with healthier alternatives to the foods that are high in sugars that they might consume. Due to the fact that childhood obesity is on the rise, just like Health classes are compulsory in year 9 and 10, there should be a compulsory subject or even assessments that inform the younger generation about sugar which they can also take home to their parents and improve their knowledge of healthy and nutritious foods improving the whole family’s lifestyle choices when it comes to food.

 

Sources: the validity of the information collected.

I think in general the sources that I have collected are valid and are quite reliable in terms of the information that they contained. All the sources I collected are from well-known and respected New Zealand website and in most cases, are the website version of New Zealand news company’s such as Newshub. In instances where Wikipedia was used which is formed from secondary sources I made sure to trace back to the initial source to make sure the statistics, quotes or statements were correct. In terms of scientific research such as the information used in the biological concepts and processes I mainly used common science and medical sites that where based in New Zealand where the articles were generally composed by named doctors and medical professionals. However, with an issue that creates such controversy it is hard to find articles that where not, even a little bit free from opinion. However, although this would usually be a hard factor to overcome when writing a scientific report because this issue of implementing a sugar tax in New Zealand mainly stems from opinion and therefore, it is helpful to understand how organisation, individuals and groups respond. Also, all sources, with a couple exceptions, contained information and quotes from 2012 onwards to ensure the information I used was still current. However, when I did use older sources I used them to help highlight how long this proposed sugar tax has been debated in New Zealand.

Bias: How it may influence my reporting.

In terms of the scientific research around my report I do believe it is not bias as I have looked at all angles in terms of the positives and negatives of implementing a sugar tax. Also, when it comes to the effectiveness of the sugar tax, I do believe my opinion is free from bias as although I have a family member who use to suffer from obesity and eventually got a serious diagnosis of type 2 diabetes I do not let my personal experience influence my opinion of whether a sugar tax would be affected if implemented. If anything, I am more critical, and more closely analyse how a sugar tax would or would not be efficient as I do not like the thought of other New Zealanders having to suffer from conditions that are preventable like my family member has.


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