Dutch experts question sugar tax effects on health

Dutch experts question sugar tax effects on health

When asked to comment on Jamie Oliver’s controversial ‘sugar tax’, Dutch experts expressed their doubts regarding the efficacy of such measure when it comes to improving public health.

A tax on sugar barely makes sense because consumption may decrease only if prices substantially increase, according to Astrid Postma-Smeets, nutrition and health expert at the Voedingscentrum (Dutch Nutrition Centre). The Nutrition Center is the authority that provides consumers with independent and science-based information on healthy, safe and more sustainable food choices. Instead of campaigning for a ‘sugar-tax’, the Centre is convinced that the best approach to obesity is prevention and education.

Also Jos Look, board member of the Dutch Obesity Society, has his doubts on taxation, especially on soft drinks: “Almost 51 percent of the Dutch population is overweight and more than a third of them is severely overweight. And that is certainly not only because of a Coke. You can find added sugars in everything: even in packaged fresh fruit salad”.


The original article published in De Telegraaf can be found here.

McKinsey Institute: How the world could better fight obesity

McKinsey Institute: How the world could better fight obesity

Obesity is a critical global issue that requires a comprehensive, international intervention strategy.


Much of the global debate on this issue has become polarized and sometimes deeply antagonistic. Obesity is a complex, systemic issue with no single or simple solution. The global discord surrounding how to move forward underscores the need for integrated assessments of potential solutions.

A new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) discussion paper, Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis, seeks to overcome these hurdles by offering an independent view on the components of a potential strategy.


The main findings of the discussion paper include:

  • Existing evidence indicates that no single intervention is likely to have a significant overall impact.
  • Education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program aiming to reduce obesity
  • No individual sector in society can address obesity on its own


Read the full paper here.

Fast food accounts for ‘minority of calories’ but gets all the focus

Fast food accounts for ‘minority of calories’ but gets all the focus

Hunger the ‘least important’ factor in determining what we eat

Fast-food and soft drinks account for “a minority” of calories we consume but we focus on those items while ignoring foods such as potatoes, chicken and meat which account for most of our calorie intake, Prof Mike Gibney, head of UCD’s centre for food and health, said yesterday. Asked if a fat and sugar tax would curb obesity rates, he said everything should be on the table.

“The question is: how do you define if it works?”He seriously doubted a claim that a tax of 10 per cent on sugary drinks would reduce the number of obese adults by 10,000. If someone cut back on sugary drinks their bodies would seek those calories elsewhere.


“It’s very easy to talk about how a tax would reduce your intake. I’m not too sure how that would impact long-term on obesity. If I thought it would, I would be the first to vote for it.”He said this “tsunami of lard” tended to come in waves throughout centuries and by blaming one thing we were ignoring the complexity of the problem. Hippocrates [who was born in 460 BC] wrote in his essay on the Scythians that the girls were “amazingly flabby and podgy” while obesity was common in ancient Rome.“Food choice is the most complicated thing you are ever going to see,” he said. What we ate was determined by anthropology, biology, sociology and psychology, while hunger was the least important issue.


He was speaking at an open meeting in Dublin organised by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s food safety consultative council with the theme: “Who is responsible for what we eat?”

The authority’s chief executive, Prof Alan O’Reilly, said measures such as taxes on certain categories of food could lead to claims of a nanny state and they ignored all the other causes of obesity. If you taxed fat and sugar because they caused obesity, then shouldn’t you tax sofas and televisions?

“People over-eat and they eat the wrong foods and so on…but people also don’t take enough exercise, so why not tax all of the other aspects like lifts, escalators…why focus just on food with respect to fiscal measures?”


Healthier options

He said the food industry had a window of opportunity to voluntarily introduce healthier options with reduced fat and sugar. If they failed to do so more stringent regulations and tighter controls would be brought in. He called for a carrot and stick approach, similar to that used in reducing road deaths.

Prof Reilly also pointed to a recent initiative by the Dubai municipality which gave people one gram of gold for each kilo of weight they lost over a month.

“People were queuing to lose weight. Maybe Minister Noonan should have introduced that in the budget,” he added, not entirely seriously.


Please see the Irish Times for more details.


Holistic approach needed for a complex problem

Holistic approach needed for a complex problem

Claudia Wüstenhagen, writing in German daily Zeit investigates possible solutions in the context of Germans getting fatter.

The article contrasts the attempts by health experts’ PR campaigns against the marketing power of the food industry, and reviews the “naturally attractive” response of national governments – taxation.

However, the article promotes a holistic view – if taxation was an option, it would have to be one building block in a raft of policy efforts to address obesity – “a complex social problem with many causes”. There is little empirical evidence that a tax on sugar or fat actually make people eat ‘healthier’ which should be the end result. The fact that when a tax on saturated fat was introduced in Denmark, Danish consumers crossed the border to buy their groceries in Germany illustrates the complexity of not only eating, but purchasing habits that must be considered.

The education of children at an early age is important, and the article reports on a ‘nutritional driver’s licence’ scheme to educate children in schools – making healthy options available to children in schools is also a necessity if these lessons are to be put into practice.

The fact that modern society “promotes obesity” according to Anja Kroke, Professor of Public Health Nutrition from the University of Fulda is at the centre of the problem. Until a coherent set of policies is considered – access to sports facilities, ability to cycle, children watching television, subsidies for meat production – little will change.

Indeed, piecemeal attempts through taxation will not achieve any significant societal change.

You can read the full article here at zeit.de

Would a sugar tax protect us from diabetes?

Would a sugar tax protect us from diabetes?

Professor Andreas Pfeiffer said ‘it seems we are losing the battle’ at the European Diabetes Congress in 2012, as the number of people diagnosed with type-1 diabetes increases globally by 3% every year. So what can we do about it?

Pfeiffer outlines the need to promote healthier lifestyles in terms of exercise and nutrition. He encourages adults to bike to work, or send their kids to school by bike, provided that safe routes are available. Furthermore, it is important to offer healthy food at affordable prices and highlight the need to consume fewer calories.

According to the professor, a tax on saturated fat like the one seen in Denmark is not the way out. ‘It did not result to anything in Denmark,’ he says. In the end, the long-term strategy of branding unhealthy food as ‘out’ and healthy food as ‘in’ might just be the best solution.

The full article is available here.