Public Health Experts Call for a Tax on Sugary Drinks

05 April 2016

A group of public health professors from New Zealand universities have signed an open letter to the Cabinet calling for stronger child obesity prevention measures from the Government.

The group of more than 70 academics is concerned by New Zealand’s high rate of childhood obesity - the fourth highest in the world.

While they applaud the government for making childhood obesity a national health priority, its action plan of 22 soft strategies that was launched last year with no extra funding, is not sufficient to change current trends, they say.

They urge the Minister to implement a significant tax on sugary drinks as a vital measure to strengthen strategies that reduce childhood obesity and dental caries.

The letter notes that every year more than 5000 children under eight years old require general anaesthetic operations to remove rotten teeth.

Multiple authoritative bodies world-wide have reviewed the available evidence on sugary drinks taxes and concluded that such taxes are likely to be one of the most cost-effective interventions available and have recommended that they should be part of a comprehensive approach to reduce childhood obesity.

The recent WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, co-chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, recommended a tax on sugary drinks as its number two recommendation.

Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman, will vote to endorse the Commission’s recommendations at the World Health Assembly this month.

After the Minister says ‘yes’ to the WHO Commission’s report in front of world health ministers in Geneva, it would be opportune and show great leadership to come back and say ‘yes’ to one of its main recommendations in front of New Zealand children, adolescents and their parents, says the group of academics.

They agree that the evidence supporting sugary drinks taxes is stronger than the evidence for any of the 22 strategies in the government’s existing plan.

A sugary drinks tax would be expected to raise $30-$40 million which could be used to boost funding for obesity prevention programs.

The open letter calls for Cabinet to strengthen its plans to reduce childhood obesity and dental caries by introducing a 20 percent excise tax on sugary drinks.

They say that the evidence, health professionals, and the public strongly support this measure, and current and future generations of New Zealand children will be the beneficiaries of this legacy.


The Open Letter was signed by the following 74 health professors from throughout New Zealand:

Alistair Woodward - Epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Andrew Hornblow - Emeritus / public health, School of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Ann Richardson - Epidemiology, Wayne Francis Cancer Epidemiology Research Group, University of Canterbury

Barry Taylor - Paediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

Bernhard Breier - Nutrition, School of Food and Nutrition, Massey University, Albany

Boyd Swinburn - Population nutrition, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Bruce Arroll - General practice, School Population Health, University of Auckland

Chris Bullen - Public health medicine, National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland

Clare Wall - Nutrition, School of Medical Sciences, University of Auckland

Cliona Ni Mhurchu - Population nutrition, National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland

David Cameron-Smith - Nutrition, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland

David McBride - Occupational epidemiology, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

David Murdoch - Pathology, The Infection Group, University of Otago, Christchurch

Dawn Elder - Paediatrics and child health, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Dee Mangin - General practice, Department of General Practice, University of Otago, Christchurch

Diana Lennon - Paediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Auckland

Diana Sarfati - Cancer epidemiology, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Don Schwass - Preventive and restorative dentistry, School of Dentistry, University of Otago, Dunedin

Doug Sellman - Psychiatry & Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Elaine Rush - Nutrition, School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology

Faafetai Sopoaga - Pacific health, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

George Thomson - Tobacco control, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Gillian Abel - Public health, Department of Population Health, University of Otago, Christchurch

Harvey White - Cardiology, School of Medicine, University of Auckland

Jane Coad - Nutrition, Massey Institute of Food Science and Technology, Massey University, Palmerston North

Janet Hoek - Marketing, Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin

Jennie Connor - Public health medicine, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

Jeremy Krebs - Diabetes and endocrinology, Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, University of Otago, Wellington

Jeroen Douwes - Public health medicine, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington

Jim Mann - Nutrition and diabetes, Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin

Jonathan Broadbent - Preventive and restorative dentistry, Sir John Walsh Research Institute, University of Otago, Dunedin

John Broughton - Dentistry, Department of Oral Diagnostic and Surgical Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin

Les Toop - General practice, Department of General Practice, University of Otago, Dunedin

Louise Signal - Nutrition, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Luts Beckert - Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Mark Elwood - Epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Marlena Kruger - Nutrition, School of Food and Nutrition, Massey University, Palmerston North

Mauro Farella - Orthodontics, Department of Oral Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin

Michael Baker - Public health medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Michael Keall - Public health, Department of Public health, University of Otago, Wellington

Murray Skeaff - Nutrition, Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, Dunedin

Murray Thomson - Public health dentistry, Sir John Walsh Research Institute, University of Otago, Dunedin

Ngaire Kerse - General practice, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Nick Wilson - Public health medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Nicholas Chandler - Endodontics, Department of Oral Rehabilitation, University of Otago, Dunedin

Papaarangi Reid - Maori health, Department of Maori Health, University of Auckland

Patricia Priest - Epidemiology and public health, School of Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

Paul Brunton - Restorative dentistry, Department of Oral Rehabilitation University of Otago, Dunedin

Peter Crampton - Public health medicine, Division of Health Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin

Peter Davis - Health sociology, COMPASS Research Centre, University of Auckland

Philip Gendall - Emeritus / public health, Marketing, Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin

Philippa Howden-Chapman - Public health, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Rachael Taylor - Medicine, Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin

Richard Edwards - Public health medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Robert Beaglehole - Emeritus / epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Robert Doughty - Preventive Cardiology, School of Medicine, University of Auckland

Robert Scragg - Epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Robin Gauld - Health policy and systems, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

Robert McGee - Health promotion, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin

Rod Jackson - Epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Roger Hughes - Public health nutrition, School of Public Health, Massey University, Wellington

Ruth Bonita - Emeritus / epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Rozanne Kruger - Dietetics and nutrition, School of Food and Nutrition, Massey University, Albany

Sally Casswell - Public health, SHORE and Whariki Research Centre, Massey University, Auckland

Shanthi Ameratunga - Public health medicine, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Sheila Skeaff - Nutrition, Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, Dunedin

Simon Hales - Environmental epidemiology, Department of public health, University of Otago, Wellington

Stephen Chambers - Pathology, Department of Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch

Sue Pullon - General practice, Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington

Susan Morton - Epidemiology, Centre for Longitudinal Research, University of Auckland

Susan Wells - Public health medicine, School of Population Health, University of Auckland

Tim Cundy - Diabetes, School of Medicine, University of Auckland

Tony Blakely - Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Wayne Cutfield - Paediatrics, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland