Global Economy
World Diabetes Day: Sugar tax would have no health benefits says Irish lobby group IBEC
By Finfacts Team
Nov 13, 2012 - 2:49 PM

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World Diabetes Day: On the eve of a day to highlight the scourge of diabetes, November 14, 2012, a unit of IBEC, the principal Irish business lobby group, says a sugar tax would have no health benefits and it warned "that imposing a discriminatory tax on certain food and drink products would have no health benefits and would further hit already hard-pressed Irish consumers." Meanwhile, men are more likely to be admitted to hospital as a result of poor management of diabetes than women, even when there are no significant differences in the number of men and women living with diabetes, according to new OECD data.

Across 25 countries, 8.7% of men and 8.3% of women are currently living with diabetes. The average number of hospital admissions with diabetes was 188 per 100 000 among men, whereas women had a hospital admission rate of 143 per 100 000 - - more than 20% lower.

The greater numbers of men being admitted to hospital for poor management of diabetes ought to raise concerns that men are not managing their diabetes as well or making the most of primary health care services when compared to women.

Across both sexes, countries such as Switzerland, Canada and Portugal have high prevalence of diabetes across their population but low rates of hospital admissions from poor management of diabetes. At the same time, Korea, Mexico and Austria have similarly high prevalence of diabetes but much higher rates of hospital admissions.

Progress in improving diabetes care across OECD countries has been mixed in the last two years for which data is available. Canada, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Germany and Austria have reduced the number of hospital diabetes-related hospital admissions. However, Iceland, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Italy, Finland and Korea have all seen increases in hospital admissions for diabetes. Admission rates in Norway and the United States have remained about the same.

Diabetes is a health condition where good health policies and good health care can make a big difference. Modest weight loss and dietary changes can delay and prevent the onset of diabetes and better management of blood glucose can reduce further health care complications.

However, the think-tank says that too many patients across OECD countries today do not receive treatment until more serious complications have set in. As countries reflect on how to improve health care for people living with diabetes, the OECD encourages them to think about their men.

This data released today is drawn from the OECD and European Commission’s forthcoming publication on Health at a Glance: Europe 2012, which will be released on 16 November 2012.  For further data and information on the OECD’s work on health, visit: http://www.oecd.org/health/.

The IBEC food and drinks unit FDII's director Paul Kelly said today: "Fiscal measures specifically aimed at altering behaviour are complex to design and can be highly unpredictable. Ireland already imposes high taxes on many foods. While most foods are exempt from VAT, the standard rate of 23% applies to confectionary items like sweets, chocolate, crisps, ice-cream and soft drinks. An additional tax on sugar or soft drinks would leave Irish consumers out of pocket, paying one of the highest tax rates in Europe. The impact would be highly regressive, with a disproportionate impact on low-income families that spend a higher proportion of income on food.

“This flawed approach has been recognised by the Danish Government, which over the weekend announced it was withdrawing a saturated fat tax after one year and was also scrapping proposals for a sugar tax because of concerns about inflation, cross-border trade and the risk to jobs. The Danish food minister Mette Gjerskov said, 'Now we need to try to do something else to address public health.'

"The Irish food and drink industry is fully committed to playing its role in helping to tackle obesity and other relevant public health issues. However, the obesity issue will not be resolved by taxation or other forms of discriminatory legislation aimed at individual food categories. An evidence based holistic approach is necessary, which should include measures such as reformulation, consumer awareness, the promotion of physical activity, and workplace and school well-being programmes."

“I’m not surprised they had trouble with a fat tax,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington that has worked on food tax initiatives, according to The New York Times.

“It’s much easier to tax specific foods, say a tax on sugary sodas, than to tax at the nutrient level like a fat tax or a sugar tax.”

The Danish law put a surcharge on foods containing more than 2.3% fat.

So Kelly's claim that a sugar tax would have no benefits is not a fact. It's a judgement that he is not likely professionally competent to make.

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