Massive sugar find in NZ drinks spur renewed calls for sugar tax

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Sugar in many New Zealand drinks is significantly higher than Australia, UK and Canada, with the impact being called a "rapid slide into a sugar-saturated health crisis". 

Dr Lynne Chepulis from the University of Waikato's School of Food and Nutrition along with other researchers from New Zealand, Australia and Britain studied the sugar content of non-alcoholic beverages across the four nations, with New Zealand landing a dismal last place health-wise in almost all categories researched. 

"We compared the nutritional content, particularly focusing on the sugar content of beverages. The interesting find is that New Zealand basically has the highest sugar content across the majority of categories compared to other countries," Dr Chepulis told 1 NEWS. 

Dr Chepulis said she was surprised with the findings, especially the "size of the difference".

"You look at somewhere like the UK who are bringing in the sugar tax later this year, their product have upwards of 40 to 50 per cent less sugar in their drinks compared to New Zealand, which certainly indicates in my mind that a sugar tax is beneficial."

She said sugar taxes can either be passed onto the consumer, "which is how the model works in Mexico where the product becomes more expensive", or like in the UK where it is targeted at manufacturers, so "if they produce a drink that is lower and eight per cent sugar the company has to pay the tax".

She said the UK tax model was "really driving" manufacturers to drop sugar levels.

"The product price for the consumer doesn't change, but the product now is healthier and has less sugar in it."

She said manufacturers either had a straight reduction of sugar, there had been some increases in natural sweeteners like Stevia, and in some artificial sweeteners.

"It's been a very positive move for Britain."

Dr Chepulis said the NZ government need to "take a close look at what is happening in the UK".

"New Zealand has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, we don't seem to be doing much to reduce it. There are multiple studies that link the impact of sugar sweetened beverages to obesity."

"I'm a proponent of the whole sugar tax if it is passed on at the manufacturer level and I think the UK model is evident. If you bring in a sugar tax it can actually make a significant improvement on the nutritional quality of those sugar sweetened beverages."

In October last year, Heath Minister David Clark told NZ Herald he would not rule out the implementation of a sugar tax, and that "all options are on the table". 

The UK's sugar tax was announced in 2016 as a way to help combat child obesity, with the Treasury estimating NZ$983 million per year raised by the tax to go toward sport in primary schools.

The Independent reported in the UK Coke are blaming the sugar tax on the decision to cut bottle sizes from 1.75 litres to 1.5L, while increasing the price by NZ$0.38.