Experts call for higher taxes on sugar drinks to prevent diabetes

By: Abdul Baseer Qalandar

An important session on “Harm of sugar sweetened beverages and tax policy” was organized by Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) at Peshwar. Sanaullah Ghumman, General Secretary and Director Operations of PANAH hosted the event.

Consultant Food Policy Program at Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Mr. Munawar Hussain, Associate Professor of Nutrition at Khyber Medical College, Dr. Khalid Iqbal, Technical Director KPFSA Mr. Abdul Sittar, Director Nutrition at KP Health Department Dr. Fazal Majeed and other key experts spoke during the session. The session was attended by a large number of health professionals, media personals, civil society, and representatives of regulatory bodies and government departments.

Sana Ullah Ghumman, General Secretary and Director Operations of PANAH welcomed the participants. He said that the recent statement of Mr. Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, President, Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) recommending an increase on the federal excise duty (FED) on sugary drinks and cigarettes is encouraging. He endorsed that raising tax on unhealthy food like sugary drinks will help to deal with economic emergency as well as diabetic emergency in the country.

Mr. Munawar Hussain Consultant Food Policy Program at Global Health Advocacy Incubator said that raising tax on SSBs have substantial benefits both in term of increased revenue and keeping the people alive and healthy.

He said that the World Diabetes Federation has released shocking statistics in November 2021, according to which Pakistan has 3rd highest burden of diabetes worldwide. More than 33 million people are living with diabetes with a sharp increase of 14 million in just last two years. He said that a recent study by World Bank brought a new evidence for Pakistan which will be useful for policy makers to make evidence based changes in the tax policy.

The study indicates that progressively increased taxes on sugar drinks will reduce its consumption, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other chronic diseases. The study also indicates that the major impact will be on reduction of obesity and diabetes, however, the reduction in cardiovascular diseases will also be significant. Another important findings from study reflects that the average tax revenue in the first 10 years after imposing higher tax will be significantly greater than the current revenue collected through SSB taxes in Pakistan. He concluded that Ministry of Finance and Federal Board of Revenue should impose higher taxes on all types of sugary drinks including sodas, juices, energy drinks, iced tea, flavored milk and other drinks containing added sugar.

Dr. Khalid Iqbal, Associate Professor at Khyber Medical College said that drinking just one soda a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27% for adults and 55% for children. He added that a meta-analysis of 11 studies (including more than 300,000 participants) found a clear link between SSB consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes. Another meta-analysis of 8 studies (including more than 280,000 participants) found that a higher intake of SSBs was associated with a 30% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A cohort study found that consuming two or more glasses per day of soft drinks was associated with a 17% higher risk of death due to cancer. He said that one to two glasses of SSBs per day was associated with a 59% higher risk of death from digestive diseases.

Dr. Abdul Sittar, Technical Director at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Food Safety and Halal Authority (KPFSA) said that a comprehensive approach needs to be adopted to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks. He said that KPFSA has already banned the availability and consumption of sugary drinks at schools and universities.

Dr. Fazal Majeed Director Nutrition at Khyber Pakhtunkwa Health Department also spoke at the event and appreciated the efforts of PANAH made to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods like sugary drinks.

The speakers proposed that the Pakistani policy makers can learn from the experience of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, South Africa and many other countries who raised tax on sugary drinks to reduce diseases burden.

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