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Sugar Tax in New Zealand

3.2 socio-scientific issue: Sugar Tax in New Zealand

Introduction: ‘A sugary drink tax or soda tax is a tax or surcharge designed to reduce consumption of drinks with added sugar. Drinks covered under a soda tax often include carbonated soft drinks. sports drinks and energy drinks.”(1)

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When people look or think about New Zealand the perception is that this country we live in is a clean and green country in which has the prospects of living healthy, animals everywhere and clean air, though this isn’t exactly the case when looking at our statistics as almost one in three adults (aged 15 years and over) are obese (32%) and a further 35% of adults were overweight but not obese. For children in New Zealand one in nine children (aged 2-14 years) are obese (11%), further stating that children living in the most deprived areas were three times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas. (2) The issue we have here in New Zealand regrading obesity has caught the attention of over 70 professional medical specialists and have decided to alert the New Zealand Government in hope to create a sugar tax in which would help New Zealander’s live a healthier life. This study is led by the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) at the University of Auckland. in collaboration with the University of Otago in which the researchers from (NIHI) “estimate a 20 percent tax on fizzy drinks would reduce energy consumption by 0.2percent or 20kJ a day and help avert or postpone about 67 deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diet-related cancers a year.” (2) If this sugar tax is taken into place then this is not only going to help the people living in New Zealand to get healthier but it is going to have a great effect on the children in New Zealand as its going to reduce the risk and obesity in these young kiwi’s. This sugar tax is mainly directed towards fizzy drinks. “Almost one fifth of the total sugar intake of New Zealand adults (17percent) comes from non-alcoholic beverages and younger people in particular derive a substantial proportion of their sugar intake from these drinks.” (3)

Sugar is a sweet crystalline substance in which is found in various plants such as sugar cane and sugar beet, consisting of sucrose. (4) In our daily lives we tend to use sugar as a form of sweetener in certain foods and drinks. There are plenty of sugars that are naturally present in healthy foods such as our fruits and vegetables but are also present in manufactured and processed foods such as fizzy drinks, muesli bars, cereal and sauces. Sugar has no nutritional content within it and often has many calories when and if someone has too much of this substance but further health problems can occur when this substance is constantly over consumed. Some examples of these problems are obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Here in New Zealand it’s a lot more common from some families and children to eat take out or buy the unhealthier options when it comes to food and drink due to the prices of these products being a lot cheaper than the healthier options. Due to these young children eating all of this sugar it is causing children to gain weight fast and increasing their chances of having some of these serious health problems. Therefore, having a sugar tax in New Zealand would mean that these children would become healthier and be more physically active like a child should be; having a decrease in the amount of sugar these young kiwis are consuming would reduce their chances of tooth decay, diabetes and obesity at a young age. If the amount of sugar us kiwis consume continues, New Zealanders families are going to start seeing a lot more of these health problems occurring in which will come at a cost to fix things such as tooth decay and going to see a diabetes specialist. From the website (5) it states that “Research shows that sugar can be even more addicting than cocaine,” says Cassie Bjork, R.D., L.D., founder of Healthy Simple Life. “Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward centre, which leads to compulsive behaviour, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more.” This can be very concerning for our younger generation. Fructose has a massive effect on an individual‘s liver. Excess fructose damages the liver and leads to insulin resistance in the liver as well as fatty liver disease. Fructose has the same effects on the liver as alcohol which is already known as a liver toxin. Although we in take sugary substances that are bad for us and our health, we also have an essential sugar in our body in which is known as glucose. In every cell of our body it requires energy in which to perform metabolic functions to help us to stay alive. Glucose is a small and simple sugar that serves as a fuel for energy, especially for the brain, muscles and several other body organs, tissues and cell reproduction. The body is always constantly regulating glucose levels in order to function properly.

Biological implications:

Diabetes: Diabetes occurs when your blood glucose levels are too high. The glucose in your blood is your main source of energy in which this comes from the food you eat. Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas where it helps glucose from the food you eat get into the cells in which can be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough (or can’t make) insulin therefore the glucose stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells causing diabetes. (6) Glucose is an essential source of energy for your entire body. Glucose in the bloodstream comes from carbohydrates in foods in which they get changed into glucose once consumed, glucose is further found in the liver where it is previously been stored ensuring that the body will always have a constant supply of glucose to use as energy even when you have consumed nothing. Non-diabetics have between 4-8 mmol/l4 of glucose in the body. Insulin is made by the pancreas in which have two jobs in the body, the first job is to transport glucose from the blood supply into fat and muscle cells in which can be used for energy. The second job is that it is to switch the liver off once the level of glucose in the blood is at a high enough level. There are two types of diabetes, type one and type two.

Type one: Type one diabetes occurs when an individual doesn’t make enough insulin. The immune system attacks and destroys the cells that are in your pancreas that make insulin for the body therefore the body cannot use glucose for energy. In this disease individuals tend to lose a lot of weight due to the fact that their body is being starved. Their health starts to deteriorate and if they don’t get insulin into their body then it can become deadly. Therefore, to stop this, patients are required to inject themselves with insulin serval times a day, including changes in their diet to ensure the individual can maintain good health.

Type two: People who have type two diabetes still make insulin but this process of making it tends to be slower or is resistant to insulin resulting in there to be high levels of glucose in the blood. The main cause of your body becoming resistant to insulin in when you start to become over weight therefore triggering type two diabetes even in younger age groups. This form of diabetes can be treated through losing weight whilst also completing consistent physical activity. Medication is also often required to help stimulate the pancreas to make more insulin in which this medication in taken in the form of tablets.

Obesity: Obesity is a disease in which your body has a very high amount of body fat compared to lean body mass. If an individual’s body weight is at least 20% higher than it should be then the individuals is classified as being obese. A high fructose diet can cause leptin resistance. Leptin is secreted by fat cells. Therefore, the bigger the fat cells are results in the leptin they secrete. This is the signal in which the brain uses to determine how much fat is stored. A mechanism is that fructose raises levels of triglycerides in the blood, this blocks the transport of leptin from the blood into the brain. This is how excess sugar throws body fat regulation out of rhythm due to the fact that it’s making the brain think that it needs to continuously keep on eating. (7)

Tooth decay: Both bacteria and food can cause tooth decay to occur. This occurs through a clear and sticky substance called plaque in which is always forming on your teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria in it and it feeds on the sugars in the types of foods you eat and as this bacteria feeds on the sugars it then further makes acids that decay your teeth.


Economic: “Researchers from The University of Auckland have announced the results of a recent study showing that overweight and obesity in New Zealand costs the country between NZ $722 million and NZ $849 million a year in health care costs and lost productivity.” (8) Auckland University‘s Dr Simon Thomley, said “the panel believed a tax of between 50 cents and $1 per litre would be enough to deliver results. We’re seeing very consistent evidence that once a tax is introduced, consumption or purchasing significantly reduces’. Having tax been put on sugary drinks has been estimated to save NZ between $60 million to $100 million per year, in which could prevent so many cases of obesity. (9) Having a sugar tax put in place would save the health systems a lot of money in which this money can be out towards improving the medical facilities and also increasing the awareness to young children all around New Zealand about the importance of good health. For those individuals that are poorer, this tax would potentially make life a lot harder for them, as they are the ones who depend and rely on the cheap budget foods and drinks to provides their families with some form of meal therefore resulting this sugar tax to have a negative impact on these people’s lives. Although, this tax will start to close the price gap between healthy foods and drinks and sugary foods and drinks in which the healthy food that was too expensive to buy in the past will now be looked at as a first-choice option for a meal that is filled with good nutrients due to the prices being similar.

Social: “The average New Zealander would need to cut their daily sugar intake to a sixth of what it is now to meet new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.” Some statistics around how much sugar New Zealanders intake show that New Zealanders, on average, consume about 54kg of sugar per year, in which this is equivalent to 37 teaspoons of sugar per person per day. People don’t tend to realise how much sugar is actually in certain foods especially the processed foods. “A can of fizzy drink (355 millilitres) could contain up to 10 teaspoons, or 40 grams, of sugar. A tablespoon of tomato sauce could contain one teaspoon of sugar.” (10) When you start to compare the healthy options to the unhealthy options it clearly shows why people will go for the unhealthy option. A 1.5 bottle of fizzy will cost on average about $2 from the supermarket opposed to a 750ml bottle of pump water that will cost you on average $3.50/$4. Therefore because of this difference in the prices of these drinks new Zealanders tend to go for the cheaper option in which they also tend to look a lot more appetizing drinks are filled with sugars and artificial flavours that make the people consuming the drinks wanting to come back for more and more. A sugar tax would defiantly make a reduction in the amount of sugary drinks us New Zealanders consume, as it will make these drinks more expensive to buy making people to choose the healthier option for a drink or even not buy anything and just stick to their tap water at home. In New Zealand we do have people who are poorer than others or are unemployed and have a larger number of people to feed in their families therefore these cheap drinks filled of sugar are all in which they can afford to support their families. Therefore this tax could potentially affect those poorer families that rely on these unhealthy foods and drinks that are quick and easy to prepare and feed a large family. However those families that are richer in New Zealand would mostly likely support this tax as they are the ones who can afford the healthy foods and drinks to give to their families every day and even if they wanted to go out on a limb and buy sugary drinks for an occasion this wouldn’t affect them as they have the money to buy it for fun and not having to rely on it on a daily basis. Another positive for New Zealanders from this sugar tax is that “A 20 percent tax on sugary soft drinks could prevent 67 deaths from cardiovascular disease diabetes, and diet-related cancers per year”. (10)

Other opinions/my opinion:


Here in New Zealand we have and increasing obesity rate in which there are many people who believe that assigning a sugar tax here in New Zealand will be a positive idea to take on board as it’ll improve the health and well-being of many individuals. There are over 70 medical specialists who signed a letter to the Cabinet Ministers about the rising rates of obesity and the thought that this sugar tax with help decreases these rising rates of obesity here in New Zealand (11). It is stated that “we are concerned by New Zealand’s appallingly high rate of childhood obesity, the fourth highest in the world. More than 5000 children under eight years old require general anaesthetic operations to remove rotten teeth; we argue you to implement a significant tax on sugary drinks as a core component of strengthened strategies to reduce childhood obesity and dental caries.” “Our supermarkets are loaded with sugar, particularly in the form of fruit juices, cordials, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, biscuits and cakes. New Zealand children report eating and drinking about 17 teaspoons per day of sugar, with about 25% of this from sugary drinks”. (12) The richer families here in New Zealand tend to be the ones who support the sugar tax a lot more than those who come from poorer incomes. This is due to the fact that they want to give their family and young ones are good healthy start to their life as they can afford the healthier lifestyle.


Although there are people are for this sugar tax to be present here in New Zealand, there are also people who oppose of this idea as they believe that this tax won’t work. There are some people who in which believe there is no need for the sugar tax to be present here in New Zealand as all we need is more of an education on how to maintain a healthy diet. Katherine Rich (a chief executive of NZ food and grocery council) is one of those individuals who strongly believe ‘education programs are vital’ she also further states, “in New Zealand, the heart foundation goes into schools to teach about healthy eating and a separate programme helps school canteens offer healthier foods.” People think that New Zealanders need to not be so lazy and actually go out buy fresh produce and cook meals themselves instead of going out and buying fatty foods and sugary drinks such as McDonalds and KCF. Stated from Dr W Gifford-Jones “In a study, 43 obese children ate the same number of calories, but decreased added sugars to 10% of their daily calories from 28% for 9 days. There was no change in weight, but their cholesterol, triglyceride, fasting blood sugar and insulin levels all dropped. Their weight remained the same, as the number of calories did not change. No one should ever forget the word calorie.” (13) This shows that the people who live on sugary drinks swap those drinks out but they still remain with the same number of calories just lessened amounts of sugar. These calories that the individuals are in taking is what is preventing individuals to lose weight even though they are consuming and reducing their sugar intake in their diets. Therefore, this is a lose/lose situation as the whole point of the sugar tax to be put into action is to reduce the obesity and health related problems caused by being overweight and this clearly shows the downside of a sugar tax.


l personally feel as though if New Zealand was to impose a sugar tax, they couldn’t just put a tax on all sugary drinks they would need to put a tax on all added sugar in foods and drinks, this is due to the fact that when looking at statistics people choose fatty takeaways rather than a nutrition home cooked meal as they are far more cheaper and those who struggle financially reply on this type of food. Another huge factor that comes into play when trying to get people to lose weight is the fact that people who are obese is that they actually have to want to do it for themselves. Therefore, if these individuals need to make time and put in the effort to go out and get physically active for at least 30 minutes per day whilst also changing their dietary lifestyle to improve their overall well-being, as if they don’t have this motivation and dedication to start changing then the increase of prices on these sugary drinks are not going to discourage them from purchasing it. I personally feel that with the tax only being put on sugary drinks, this tax won’t work and would be a waste of effort, time and money. I feel this way due to the study Dr W Gifford-Jones did on obese children and I highly doubt that New Zealand will see a noticeable difference in health and weight improvement in those individuals that are currently obese. In the study carried out on these children they decreased the amount of sugar they were in taking but switching out these sugary drinks and foods to products that did have less sugar but the products remained with the same number of calories so therefore resulting in these children to not lose weight and remain in their obese state. | feel as though instead of wasting time and money on trying to implement this sugar tax in NZ, this money could be put towards other things to help benefit children’s lifestyle such as educating these young adolescents about how to live a healthy lifestyle whilst having a balanced diet. Another factor that influences obesity is poverty. “Poverty in early life was linked to later childhood obesity in a recent study of 1,134 children in 10 US. cities (Lee et al., 2014). More specifically, children who experienced poverty by two years of age were 1.66 times more likely to be obese by 15.5 years of age than children who did not experience early poverty.” (14) Therefore, this money could be used to try and improve the living circumstances for these impoverished children that don’t have access to nutritional food. Lastly the media plays a huge role in making us want to but a particular product as we see our role models eating or drinking it therefore we think it’ll be good for us too. An example of this is the All Blacks and their advertisement for Powerade. Many young children/adolescents look up to these men and due to them being seen on TV drinking a sugary filled drink it influences them to go out and get this drink for when they play sports as they think it will help improve their performance. Instead we should be getting/paying these athletes to advertise healthier foods and drinks, such as water for these children to drink as I personally think that these advertisements have a big impact on younger children to what they go out to drink/buy therefore by having a healthier option portrayed to them then this might encourage or even just make them consider making choice that will improve their lifestyle.

Health professionals:

A group of over 70 health academics from various New Zealand universities want more to be done about the country’s high rate of childhood obesity as it is currently the fourth highest in the world. (15) It was further stated in the article that “The professors want Cabinet to introduce a 20 per cent excise tax on sugary drinks, which they say would generate $30-$40 million that could go towards obesity prevention programmes.” (15)


Representatives from the ‘Maori Party, the Opportunities Party and the Green Party are all in favour for this sugar tax in New Zealand to go ahead in which Kevin Hague from the Green party stated, “It’s time to start treating the disease of diabetes like smoking-related cancers and use targeted taxes to reduce consumption and pay for the damage sugary drinks are doing to the health of our children.”(15) However, although these parties are in favour of this tax to go ahead, both labour and national are against implementing a sugar tax on sugary drinks due to the lack of evidence that shows there will for sure have in a decreased rate of child obesity in New Zealand. Former Prime Minister John Key says “the Government’s position on a sugar tax hasn’t changed. There’s still no evidence to back one up.” Key was holding firm on his insistence as there’s no evidence to back a sugar tax, despite a poll suggesting most Kiwis would be in favour of one. “A One News Colmar Brunton poll found about 66 per cent of people favoured a tax on soft drinks, with only 29 per cent against.”(16)

Validity and bias:

l do personally believe that this information that information that l have gathered for this report is valid due to the fact that a lot of this information is creditable and has come from government and university published reports, a website that I used was http://www.tamaki.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news/news-2014/tax-on-fizzy-drinks-could-save-the-lives-of-about-67-kiwis-each-.html (3) in which this is a reliable source where I gather accurate information from. Any issues with the information would come from the information that I gathered from online newspaper articles, as it is very common that the people who in which write these articles online can be bias and also politically motivated to give out information that isn’t correct or misleading individuals on the correct reasons something is or isn’t happening. Information I gathered from http://www.stuff.co.nz/nationaI/health/9800045/Sugar-cut-would-hit-average-Kiwi (10) has viewpoints and articles written by medical and doctors in which is dated and referenced by the author of that article therefore showing creditable information.

Actions and effectiveness:

In my opinion personally, instead of just applying this sugar tax to sugary drinks I would apply the tax on all drinks and foods with added sugar, with the money that is made from this sugar tax to be implemented into going towards educational programmes for those younger children and adolescents to teach them on the correct foods they should be eating and drinking whilst also trying to encourage kids to be motivated to go out and be active and learning to live a healthy balanced diet and life. Another option in my opinion for this money revenue to go towards is getting all the children and adolescents who are currently living in poverty in New Zealand out of poverty allowing them to have a chance at living a healthy life. This money could be used in a way that gets these children’s parents a better form of education to help increase their income giving the opportunity to these parents to be able to afford and supply nutritional whole foods to their children instead of having junk throughout all of their meals each day. I believe that if this type of sugar tax was implemented here in New Zealand then it has a higher chance of working better due to the fact that the more added sugar to the product the higher the amount of tax will be on the particular item then actually making it worthwhile spending the $3 on a bottle of water opposed to the increased price of coke for example being $4. If this sugar tax on added sugar in products was implemented by the government then there is a higher chance that the expenditure on the treatment and care of the obese and diabetic individuals by the government would decrease significantly as these individuals are removing themselves from eating and drinking addictive products with sugar in them therefore resulting in these individuals to consume less sugar and choose a healthier alternative.


In conclusion, this sugar tax whether it be implemented here in NZ or not will have an effect on our society either way. If this sugar tax was implemented this could have an effect on the poorer people in N2 in which could affect people’s jobs and income. Although it could potentially encourage people to start choosing healthier options and start to make a change in their lifestyle. However, if this tax isn’t implemented then this could possibly save the government a lot of money that could be used and put towards other things such as improving hospitals and health care. This money can further be put towards getting children and adolescents out of poverty and prevent it in the future, as there is a strong link between obesity and poverty. Sugar has a massive impact on one’s body when and if consumed in too much or too often. it is an addictive substance in which can be hard to break out whilst also being expensive therefore this tax on sugar might prevent excess spending on sugary products resulting in more money to be saved. Due to the fact that some people are already addicted to sugar they are still going to be influenced to go out and buy these sugary products to make them feel satisfied. However, this is only mental. These individuals have become so used to consuming these products their entire lives therefore it’s a natural habit for them and don‘t actually realise how bad these drinks are for them and the consequences from consuming too much sugar. This just clearly shows that all individuals need to be educated on how to maintain a balanced healthy diet. I personally feel as though my proposed action would do well and help those who are currently overweight and unhappy with their lifestyle whilst preventing future children having these health problems. It is extremely difficult not to be happy especially when you are constantly surrounded by those who are happy as it lifts your mood up. if the people who in which run these educational programmes are happy and are physically and mentally healthy, it could allow those individuals who are currently overweight and unhappy with themselves to uplift their moods and see a different path and start to change in the future for the better. This can further be exposed through those individuals who have experienced it and recommending it to those whose need help to get out of a deep low and start to improve their health and well-being therefore I think it can and will be very effective. My information that I have collected to form this report l feel as though is quite reliable. For majority of this information it has been fairly recent or within the past few years. I am comfortable with what I have produced and researched as I think that l have argued both sides of this issue towards a sugar tax here in NZ with a young understanding and an opinion that I feel argues a valid point. I haven’t been biased when arguing both the positives and negatives of the issue however I do support my argument and opinions.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugary_drink_tax
  2. https://www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/health-statistics-and-data-sets/obesity-statistics
  3. http://www.tamaki.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news/news-2014/tax-on-fizzy-drinks-could-save-the-lives-of-about-67-kiwis-each-.html
  4. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/sugar
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug
  6. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/glucose-diabetes
  7. https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/the-facts-on-leptin-faq#1
  8. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11505902
  9. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/94097625/government-skips-debate-on-sugary-drink-tax
  10. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/9800045/Sugar-cut-would-hit-average-Kiwi
  11. https://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/assets/fmhs/faculty/ABOUT/newsandevents/docs/SSB%20tax%20open%20letter%20final%2002April2016.pdf
  12. http://nutritionfoundation.org.nz/sites/default/files/140601%20Sugar%20in%20diet%20of%20NZ%20White%20Paper.pdf
  13. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/making-simple-change-can-dramatically-6713081
  14. http://frac.org/obesity-health/relationship-poverty-obesity
  15. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/78497920/government-not-persuaded-by-health-professors-lobbying-to-introduce-sugar-tax
  16. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/78805245/prime-minister-john-key-holds-firm-against-sugar-tax-despite-poll-indicating-public-support


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