Policymakers encouraged to impose tax on sugary beverages

(L to R): Dr Damian Greaves, Joseph W Childers, Hon Nickolas Steel and Sir Trevor Austin Hassell

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada

  • WHO calls for 20% tax on sugary beverages.
  • Healthcare is the 3rd most important issue on the minds of Grenadians after unemployment and housing.

Following the 2016 call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to impose a 20% tax on sugary beverages, Chair of Barbados National NCD Commission Sir Trevor Austin Hassell encouraged policymakers in Grenada to consider this strategy to deal with the prevalence of childhood obesity epidemic.

Sir Trevor was Saturday’s guest speaker at the National Chronic Noncommunicable Disease Commission (NCNDC) Retreat held at Upper Taylor Hall at St George’s University (SGU). This retreat brought together health professionals and other stakeholders to devise plans and programmes to tackle the strain that noncommunicable diseases have on the health system.

According to Information from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), “More than 30% of our Caribbean adolescents are overweight or obese, and risk developing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases later in life.”

CARPHA has estimated that the economic burden of diabetes and hypertension alone is between 1.4% and 8% of GDP in the Caribbean.

Sir Trevor said this region cannot afford to allow chronic noncommunicable diseases continue to put a burden on regions health resources. “The heads of CARICOM noted with concern that obesity in children represented the greatest threat to health of future generations with the level of overweight an obesity being more than 30% in primary and secondary schools in many CARICOM states; in this respect that is an opportunity for the Grenada NCD commission to support at the regional level an HTC civil society programme which seeks to reduce childhood obesity by getting government to impose tax on surgery items and banning of junk foods in schools. I also call on the commission to support an online petition in which we plan to demonstrate to CARICOM heads the support of people of the region for these measures.”

The impact of chronic noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases cannot be ignored, said the Chair of Barbados National NCD Commission as CARICOM leaders have recognised that NCDs are a major threat to the regional health, causing 7 out of 10 deaths and resulting in ministries of health throughout the region expending 60% or more of their health budget on treating complications resulting from NCDs.

The state of Grenada’s healthcare according to Health Minister Nickolas Steele is the 3rd most important issue on the minds of Grenadians after unemployment and housing.

Addressing attendees at Saturday’s retreat, Minister Steele admitted that Grenada and the rest of the region have been too slow to implement legislation that addressed NCDs at the source. He said if this remains the same, healthcare will become the number 1 issue in Grenada.

“Healthcare has moved up. It was number 5, five years ago now it has moved up to number 3. So, if we continue along the path where we are on now with respect to NCDs, healthcare will be the number 1 issue on the minds of the people. Not only that, but it will be an issue we will not be able to deal with and as it stands now we cannot cover all of the costs involved. As a people, we have been making progress, but it has not been fast enough.”

The fact that healthcare in the region has not been the primary position of discussion when the CARICOM heads of government met was another concern expressed by Minister Steele. “We need to make sure that we do our jobs correctly so that it never becomes the primary discussion because the day that it does become the primary discussion, the failure that we think we are trying to avoid will have come home to roost — our hospitals will be filled and that too many of our populations would have suffered the ultimate fate.”

The issue of enacting legislation to impose a tax on sugary beverages was also addressed by Minister Steele. “The imposition of taxes on sugary beverages in most cases needs a regional decision. No country on its own can go the full distance without the approval of all, but what we need from sessions like these is to shift completely to being policy implementers.”

NCNDC Retreat, Upper Taylor Hall, St George’s University

According to the WHO’s Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases report stemming from its 2015 Technical Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, “In 2014, 39% of adults worldwide aged 18 years and older (38% of men and 40% of women) were overweight (defined as body mass index [BMI] ≥ 25). Between 1980 and 2014, the worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly doubled, with 11% of men and 15% of women — ie more than half a billion adults — being classified as obese. In 2013, an estimated 42 million children aged under 5 years (6.3%) were overweight, an increase from around 5% in 2000 to 6% in 2010 and 6.3% in 2013, with the highest rates of increase being observed in Africa and Asia. Diabetes was directly responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2012 and 89 million DALYs. The global prevalence of diabetes or being on medication for raised blood glucose was estimated to be 9% in 2014.”

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