Health concerns put sugar tax back on the agenda

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  • Throne Speech: Governor John Rankin delivers the Throne Speach (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Throne Speech: Governor John Rankin delivers the Throne Speach (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A sugar tax could be back on the agenda to help tackle the island’s health problems.

Governor John Rankin, who delivered the Throne Speech to mark the start of Parliament, said: “While unhealthy foods are often appealing due to their lower prices, the cost of treatment is significantly higher than the cost of prevention.

“Accordingly, the Government will begin a consultation for the introduction of a sugar tax on the sale of some foods and drinks in Bermuda.”

Bermuda Diabetes Association’s diabetes educator Sara McKittrick said a sugar tax on sweetened drinks would be a step in the right direction and that it had successfully reduced sales in other countries.

She added: “We need to recognise that we are leading — and not in a good way — in terms of rates of overweight and obesity and type two diabetes, and the costs associated with managing complications of diabetes.

“Sugar-sweetened drinks are often identified as a culprit in health and obesity campaigns because they provide a concentrated amount of sugar in a small volume and it’s easy to drink a whole serving.”

But she also emphasised the need to reinvest some of the revenue from a sugar tax into educating people on how to live a healthier life and to make it easier to choose healthy options, for example by installing water stations.

She added: “We would want the decrease in sales to lead to a change in behaviour, which is the harder thing to do. But it’s a start.”

There have been repeated calls for a sugar tax — health minister Kim Wilson, then Shadow Minister of Health, told the House of Assembly in 2014 that a duty on unhealthy items could help to reduce obesity-related illnesses and raise revenue.

Former independent MP Mark Pettingill repeated the call in March but Jeanne Atherden, who was health minister at the time, told MPs that while the idea was still being explored, the Bermuda Government was focused on changing behaviour rather than making sugar a revenue source.

Mr Rankin added that the community must also reduce habits that lead to high rates of chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension in Bermuda.

He said: “The Government will engage all sectors of society in a co-ordinated, strategic plan to halt the rise in obesity and diabetes in Bermuda.”

Mr Rankin added the Government would lead the way by encouraging its employees to make healthy choices, and that it would offer programmes, incentives and education to support a healthier public service.

He said that the Government would also launch a review of healthcare costs and would “seek to extract savings throughout the entire healthcare system”.

And he added government would introduce the Radiation Therapy Act so that FutureCare patients and those covered under Government’s Health Insurance Plan can access “local life-saving radiation treatments”.

Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre welcomed the announcement and added that this would help cover the operating cost of the new Radiation Treatment Unit, which has been providing cancer treatment and symptom management to residents in Bermuda since May.

BCHC said it is committed to continue providing this therapy, and other cancer detection services, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.

It added: “As a covered benefit for HIP and FutureCare patients, the Health Insurance Department’s reimbursement will greatly assist the Centre to help cover the unit’s operating cost.

“We are very grateful for the Bermuda Government’s ongoing support for this initiative and service and in their commitment to provide improved comprehensive cancer care locally.”

Mr Rankin said the Government would also “institute a regime” that protects care home residents by amending the Residential Care Homes and Nursing Homes Act 1999 to provide standards, sanctions and regulations.

Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming said work to amend the Act had been going for some time and that “it is important that it continues so that amendments are approved as soon as possible”.

Dr Fleming said the charity would also continue to partner with the Government to tackle chronic disease challenges among older persons.

She said: “I do not believe the chronic disease challenges among older persons was mentioned in any political platform.

“However, we are in agreement that the issue is a matter of national importance if Bermudians of all ages are to enjoy maximum physical wellbeing.”

While other platform promises “will need considerable research and planning in order to be fully operationalised”, she said Age Concern looked forward to hearing more about these in the near future.

Dr Fleming added that this included finding out more about how workplace age discrimination legislation and the provision of long-term care would be addressed, specifically government’s funding, service provision and financing role in addressing long-term care.

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Published Sep 9, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 9, 2017 at 12:47 am)

Health concerns put sugar tax back on the agenda

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