Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

UAE’s sugar tax ‘not the only answer to curbing country’s health issues’

Energy drinks will be subject to increased taxes, boosting Government coffers and raising the profile of health as the nation addresses its sugar, obesity and diabetes questions. Ravindranath K / The National
Energy drinks will be subject to increased taxes, boosting Government coffers and raising the profile of health as the nation addresses its sugar, obesity and diabetes questions. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // Doubling the price of energy drinks is “a step in the right direction” but is not an answer to young people’s obsession with snacks and junk food, medics say.

Sugar-laden fizzy drinks and caffeine-packed energy drinks are to be hit with taxes this year in an effort to reduce consumption and improve the nation’s health.

Energy drinks will be subject to an excise tax of 100 per cent, while carbonated soft drinks will be 50 per cent more expensive by the end of the year.

It is the latest battle line drawn in the effort to curb on childhood obesity in a nation where 19 per cent of the population is diabetic. By making sugar loaded fizzy drinks more expensive, the Government hopes it will help reduce diabetes rates to 16 per cent by 2021.

“From a medical perspective we need to be looking at ways to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and junk food, and taxation is one way of doing that,” said Dr Walid Shaker, consultant cardiac surgeon at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi.

“It will help reduce calorie intake by encouraging young people to make cheaper, alternative choices as we know there is a problem with obesity, hypertension and diabetes in the UAE. It is a major problem here.”

Dr Shaker wants the revenues generated spent on health education campaigns.

Briton Amaar Khan founded Life Spark, providing catering and education on nutritious school meals to offer children the best chance of making healthy choices.

“Tax on sugar is not a solution to childhood obesity, as I don’t think it will make a huge difference without wider education,” he said.

“If you look at obesity statistics over the past decade, very little has changed. General knowledge on what the body needs is more important.

“Some schools hardly have an adequate lunch period, just 20 minutes, and all that’s provided is food from a tuck shop like crisps or soft drinks.

“There is not much of an option. It will be hard to stop children wanting to drink sugary drinks, but if you educate them in a way that shows they need to drink a certain amount of water to function properly, that would benefit them.”

Increasing the price of caffeinated energy drinks will also reduce consumption in young people, doctors hope.

The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, equivalent to four or five cups of coffee.

“In most of the energy drinks like Red Bull, there is an issue with the caffeine content,” said Dr Zeeshan Khan, internal medicine specialist at Medeor 24/7 hospital, Dubai.

“It can encourage dehydration and lead to acute kidney problems. In the short term, energy drinks can elevate heart rates and cardiac output. In the long run, we are not yet sure of the potential effect as they are still a relatively recent trend.”

Tooth decay is one clear issue associated with high consumption of fizzy drinks, particularly in young people.

A 2016 survey by dentists at the Hamdan bin Mohammed College of Dental Medicine in Dubai said 82 per cent of five-year-olds in the UAE had obvious tooth decay. In the capital, the prevalence was between 78.85 per cent and 95 per cent.

Dr Iyad Hussein, assistant clinical professor in paediatric dentistry at the Hamdan Bin Mohammed College of Dental Medicine, has welcomed the sugar tax.

“It will make people think twice before purchasing sugary foods, but overall it will not completely stop people buying them,” he said.

“We need to remember that obesity and tooth decay, both multifactoral diseases, are linked not only to the quality and quantity of sugars but also the frequency of sugar intake and lifestyle.

“Children’s teeth are being ravaged by sugary sweet and drinks, and parents need to feel the price rise on sugary foodstuffs to curb their overspending on them.”

nwebster@thenational.ae

Updated: May 25, 2017 04:00 AM

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