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Barbados govt defends tax on sweet drinks

sodaBRIDGETOWN, Barbados--A week-and-a-half after announcing a ten per cent tax on carbonated soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices with sweeteners, government is defending its decision, saying it is aimed at improving Barbadians' health and not just raking in money.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Ministry of Health said the tax is intended to help reduce the high incidence of non-communicable diseases, especially diabetes, and contribute to the overall good health of Barbadians.

"The tax is, in fact, all about health," it insisted.

"Taxation is a proven method used in public health to influence positive behaviour. This was clearly demonstrated in the reduced demand for and consumption of tobacco products after these products were taxed."

The ministry added that there was emerging evidence that taxing food high in salt and sugar has good public health benefit.

The Health of the Nation Study conducted in Barbados in 2012 revealed that two in every three Barbadian adults were overweight or obese. One in three adults was hypertensive, and one in five diabetic.

As for the school-aged population, 31.9 per cent was overweight and 14.4 per cent obese. More than 70 per cent of the students surveyed disclosed that they drank carbonated sweet drinks at least once a day during the month before the study.

The last study on the direct and interest cost of diabetes and hypertension indicated the annual expenditure was BDS $225 million (US $112.5 million). Overall, the cost of prevention, treatment and control of diabetes and hypertension to the economy of Barbados represented approximately five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

According to the ministry, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also addressed the link between poor dietary choices and the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

"The WHO states that there is increasing concern that consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, may result in both an increase in total caloric intake and reduced intake of more nutrient-dense foods, leading to weight gain and increased risk of NCDs," it said, adding that the organisation also expressed concern about the role free sugars play in the development of dental diseases, particularly dental caries.

Despite the criticism of the tax, which was announced in the Budget delivered by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler on Monday, June 15, the ministry said it intended to continue to aggressively promote healthy lifestyles and engage the Barbadian public on these measures. ~ Caribbean360 ~

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