Hong Kong impose a sugar tax and warning labels

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 10:23pm

I refer to the letter by Jacky Hui (“Choose to buy mooncakes with less sugar”, September 6), asking people to look at nutritional labels on mooncakes and choose the brands that do not contain as much sugar.

Excessive intake of sugar from desserts and soft drinks has created a lot of public health problems in Hong Kong and around the world, increasing the risks of diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. But I am not convinced that asking people to voluntarily choose healthier products will be effective.

In addition to public education, the government should impose a sugar tax and require health warning labels for all solid food and soft drinks that contain excessive amounts of sugar.

Other governments have been experimenting with sugar taxes and warning labels to discourage the use of extra sugar in the soft drinks industry. In June, Philadelphia became the first major US city to adopt a sugar tax on soda to fight childhood obesity and to fund related education programmes. In the UK, a sugar tax has been proposed for soft drinks sold nationwide as well as in public hospital cafes.

Health warning labels for sugary drinks will soon be obligatory in San Francisco.

The case for a sugar tax and warning labels is as strong as that against tobacco, given that excessive sugar intake is as harmful to public health as smoking.

The human desire for sweetened food is deeply rooted in our genes, inherited from our ancient ancestors in hunter-gatherer societies where the supply of calories was precarious and the human body evolved a craving for food rich in calories. Although we do not need so much sugar in modern society, the food industry exploits our taste for sugar for profit, with little regard for public health.

Therefore, government interventions are necessary to offer disincentives for such undesirable corporate behaviour and to relieve pressure on the public health system in the long term.

The proposed policies of sugar tax and warning labels will no doubt meet resistance from the food industry in Hong Kong. While it is not feasible to take on all types of sugary foods straight away, the government could start with a pilot scheme for mooncakes, a seasonal food where there is a strong demand for only a few weeks every year.

If successful, the policies can extend to soft drinks and other sugary foods.

Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong