Sugary drinks are the number one source of sugar in a New Zealander’s diet for babies, children and people aged up to 30.

That’s why more than 45 countries are taking advantage of a sugary beverage tax which would hike up prices for these drinks and reduce the sale of them. But New Zealand is not one of them. 

New research from the United States has found taxing sugary drinks cuts sales by an average of 15%.

Drinks covered under a sugary tax often include carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, sugar-sweetened fruit juice, energy drinks and sweetened tea and coffee drinks.

Researchers analysed more than 60 studies which looked at the impact of sugary beverage taxes across 12 countries and five states in the United States. 

They found price hikes from this tax deterred people from buying as many sugary drinks, but the drop in sales did not affect beverage manufacturing jobs. 

Dentist and New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) spokesperson Dr Rob Beaglehole says he was not surprised by these findings as health experts have known the effect of a sugary beverage tax for some time.

“What is a surprise though is that now more than 45 countries have implemented this measure before New Zealand. We were once a world leader in public health policies, it appears we’re now not even a slow follower.”

The call to tax sugary drinks in New Zealand

“Sugary drinks are one of the most significant risk factors for tooth decay, obesity, and type 2 diabetes,” Beaglehole says.

“We are calling on the Government to take note of this study and introduce a sugary drink industry levy modelled on the UK example as a matter of urgency.”

Auckland University of Technology nutrition professor Elaine Rush says as the cost of living in New Zealand steadily rises, the burden of malnutrition, obesity, and food insecurity also increases. 

“This is when nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes that are known to prevent disease and improve quality of life are less likely to be purchased,” Rush says.

“If sugary drinks were taxed then that tax should be used to target reduction in price of everyday foods or for subsidised dental care for those who are least able to afford these.” 

The researchers concluded that more research needed to be done to see how a sugary beverage tax actually influences a people’s diet and health. 

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