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Mar 3, 2016

Healthy Living: Sugar Tax for Healthier Living in Barbados

Diabetes, Hypertension, Heart Disease and Cancer…these are all diseases that have become a mega priority worldwide. They’re classified as NCDs – non communicable diseases – or diseases that are not contagious or infectious. Obesity – which is a primary risk factor for NCD’s – is also seen as a growing epidemic. International and local health organizations and bodies have recognized the urgent need to find strategies and interventions to reduce the growing rate of obesity – especially in children.  Some governments have adapted major policy changes to complement education campaigns that advocate for lifestyle changes. Our neighbor, Mexico and Caribbean nation, Barbados are two of a handful of countries worldwide that have ventured to implement what is commonly called the sugar tax. Now, Barbados, like Belize, has a problem with obesity; their latest figures show that sixty-four percent of its population is overweight or obese. In Belize, it is estimated at sixty percent.  So, while in Barbados last week, I took the opportunity to find out just how sweet the implementation of the sugar sweetened beverage tax has been for Barbadians.

 

Marleni Cuellar

Marleni Cuellar
“Every day we’re bombarded with messages about making healthier choices in our lives—cutting back on sweetened sugar drinks and trying to get more water and natural juices into our diets. Whereas education campaigns have focused on empowering consumers to make better choices, one Caribbean nation has taken it a step forward. I am here in Barbados where in 2015, the government made the decision to introduce the sugar sweetened beverage tax—it’s called the sugar tax and it is meant to get people of Barbados to make healthier choices in terms of beverages that are also healthier on their pockets.”

 

Donna Barker, Acting Health Promotion Officer, MOH Barbados

“The health of the nation study which was done is 2012 shows that forty-three percent of Barbadians are obese—that’s adults—and in terms of our children, we have from the global student health survey which was done in 20114, it shows that about fourteen percent of students are obese and about thirty-one percent of students are  overweight. We were also concerned that over seventy percent of children in schools are admitting from this survey that they were consuming at least one carbonating sweet drink per day.”

Donna Barker

Donna Barker is a nutritionist and the acting health promotion officer in the Ministry of Health in Barbados.

 

Donna Barker

“The ministry of health had submitted a proposal or background information to Ministry of Finance and this concentrated on the fact that there is an increasing concern about the use of added sugars especially in beverages and the link between the use of those and the increased risk of chronic diseases, weight gain and so on.”

 

The Government of Barbados introduced the sugar sweetened beverage tax in June of 2015; the first Caribbean country to do so. The ten percent excise tax would be added to any sweetened beverages such as carbonated soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juices – whether produced locally or imported. Natural products like natural juices, coconut water and plain milks would not be subjected to the tax.

 

Donna Barker

“The print media and social media…there were lot of responses that we saw there. Unfortunately it was a lot of negative response. People were concerned and again it shows that we need to do a lot of health promotion and a lot of education because people were concerned about if the tax goes on these carbonated soft drinks, what am I going to give me children to take to school during the day; what are they going to have when they are thirsty.  Persons said that they didn’t think ten percent was enough. Persons said that the government was not interested in the welfare of the people; they were only interested in making money, gaining, revenue and we got a lot of negative comments.  Because the sugar tends to satisfy immediately, it can cause persons to use more of those drinks and also reduce their intake of nutritious foods. You may find that children may not eat their lunch, but might just drink a soft drink and have another one later. Also the increase in total calories, total daily intake from sugar, can lead to overweight and then it can also lead to dental caries if the children are not taking care of their dental hygiene.”

 

A similar sugar tax was imposed in Mexico in January 2014. The tax was one peso per liter of sugar sweetened beverage which was similar to the 10% excise tax. Studies evaluating the tax in Mexico claim that there are reductions in the purchasing of taxed sweetened beverages. The sugar sweetened beverage tax was implemented on the first of August 2015 in Barbados.   The  Barbados Ministry of Health hopes that manufacturers would now be prompted to consider reducing the sugar content in their drink.

 

Donna Barker

“We know ten percent is not very high, but we hope that this is the beginning of persons becoming aware that the Ministry of Health is concerned and is working with other ministries towards a healthier country. And if we could work with finance in terms of increasing taxes on something that we think is not good for our health, maybe that money could be used on projects to improve health.”

 

While, the sin tax on sugar is not welcomed by all and many have questioned the motives for the tax. While, some advocates accept that there may be a need to action; they are demanding firm commitments that the additional revenues be allocated to health programs.

 

Donna Barker

“Diabetes, hypertension; we have heart disease. So this is a big problem in Barbados and we need to do whatever we can.”

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