In response to my Dáil question on the Government’s plans to introduce a sugar tax the Minister for Health stated: “The introduction of a sugar tax is one of a number of issues which is being considered by the Special Action Group on Obesity. I established this Group earlier in the year to identify a number of issues to help address our obesity problem. The Deputy will be aware that obesity is a factor in our growing rates of Type II Diabetes”.
I raised the question on foot of a response to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health & Children by the Department of Health on the issue of obesity. In that response it was stated that the Minister has requested the Special Action Group on Obesity to look at a number of issues including that of a sugar tax.
Specifically the response states:
Research in Ireland shows children as young as 6 months are being offered food and drinks high in sugar. In the US, research shows that children now consume more calories from sugar-sweetened drinks than from the food they eat. Research also shows that the body is less likely to recognise the calories consumed in drinks, thereby allowing over-consumption of calories. A World Health Organisation (WHO) Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, which Ireland is participating in, found that in children of 7 years of age 19% of girls and 13% of boys were overweight and 8% of girls and 5% of boys were obese. The Department is considering the US approach of a sugar tax, which has been adopted in some States, to discourage the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks. This includes discussing with the Department of Finance the luxury VAT rate on bottled water being reduced to make it more competitive with sugar sweetened drinks.
Personally I think the jury seems to be out on the success or otherwise of a sugar tax on addressing obesity. Personal and parental responsibility has to be key in addressing the growing problem of obesity in Ireland. However, if such a tax were to be introduced the funds must be ringfenced to support other initiatives in this area.