The Irish Heart Foundation has insisted that any delays in imposing the Government’s promised sugar-sweetened drinks levy should come with a pledge to ring-fence (or a guarantee that) the funds be kept for the fight against childhood obesity and food poverty.
Launching the charity’s pre-Budget submission, Head of Advocacy Chris Macey said this assurance was needed after Finance Minister Michael Noonan suggested that he would be postponing the Programme for Partnership Government provision for the levy until 2018.
Such a hold-up, coming after previous indications that the levy was intended to be imposed as a revenue raiser for the State, would call into question the Government’s commitment to tackling obesity.
It would also go against overwhelming public support for a levy highlighted in a recent poll conducted for the Irish Heart Foundation by ipsos MRBI showing that more than three quarters of Irish people would support a tax ring-fenced for action to tackle the obesity issue.
There have been a lot of promises and political hot air surrounding the obesity problem for many years.
Head of Advocacy, Mr Macey said: “It’s important that there is an unequivocal statement that the Government is not going to continue to long-finger this vital health measure and then when it is introduced pocket the proceeds for other initiatives.”
The proceed of a 20% levy on sugary drinks would initially provide a fighting fund that could become a game changer in efforts to combat childhood obesity and food poverty, particularly in disadvantaged areas. It is estimated that a 20% levy will reduce obesity levels by 3% which equates to approximately 22,000 people.
But the impact could be greatly increased if revenue from the levy is also used to establish a Children’s Future Health Fund to finance measures such as fruit and vegetable subsidies, together with family food and school food programmes delivered in disadvantaged communities, said Mr Macey.
Such initiatives would also help the estimated one in eight people in Ireland who are living in food poverty.
“We are therefore calling on the Minister for Finance not just to meet the Programme for Partnership Government commitment to introduce a sugar-sweetened drinks levy, but to demonstrate the Government’s resolve to genuinely tackle the overlapping problems of obesity and food poverty by using the income to help struggling families.”
Mr Macey added that the disparity between higher and lower income communities is highlighted in various research, such as the Growing Up in Ireland study which shows that among nine-year-olds, whilst 19% of boys and 18% of girls from professional households are overweight or obese, the rate soars to 29% of boys and 38% of girls from semi-skilled and unskilled households.
A poll by the Irish Heart Foundation last year showed that 58% of the Irish public support a tax with 39% against. This increased to 76% in favour and 22% against for a sugar sweetened drinks tax with the proceeds being used to tackle obesity.
My Macey concluded: “It is extraordinary that after all the financial pain people have suffered in the aftermath of Ireland’s economic collapse, after all the extra taxes, levies and charges that have been imposed on us, the Irish public would support a new tax in such numbers. It represents a clear statement that the public want this measure introduced now and that the proceeds should be specifically used to on measures to combat obesity.”
Remove junk food and fizzy drinks from schools and extend existing nutritious food provision models. Introduce national food standards; extend free school meals programmes with monitoring of standards. Develop healthy living modules on primary and secondary curricula; remove vending machines and give small grants to schools to cover the income lost.
Introduce ‘no fry zones’ within 1 km of schools. At present 75% of Irish schools have at least one and 30% have at least five fast food outlets within 1km.
Introduce fruit and vegetable subsidies, targeted at disadvantaged communities where obesity levels are almost three times higher than in better off communities.
Front of pack labelling:
Stop protecting the international processed food industry from having to inform consumers about products with high fat, sugar and salt content by introducing red, amber and green traffic light labelling.
Marketing to children:
Ban TV ads, product placement and sponsorship of food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar from 6am to 9pm. Other forms of marketing to children on non-broadcast media, the internet, in schools and in child-friendly locations should also be addressed through legislation, policies and codes of practice monitored by government.
Ensure that children get 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Review school PE provision as Ireland is third worst at primary level and seventh worst at secondary level in the EU for PE provision.
Develop Family Food Initiatives:
Support children and families experiencing food poverty to have access to healthy food and to develop cooking and food growing skills. 30 Family Food initiatives could be established at a cost of €2.475m over a 5-year programme: 2016-2020.
Details of the Irish Heart Foundation’s budget recommendations to Government are available for download here.