Food was not always abundant, even in the developed countries. In those times, people were filled with a longing for a sweeter life, and sugar and sugary foods became the luxury goods eager to enjoy in that era.
Today, the economic status of the majority in developing countries has improved such that it is very easy to obtain these foods. Despite this, we still have not tired of sweet tastes; the unique taste of sweet can help improve sensory experiences and let one enjoy sweet delights.
Sweetness was an important symbol to our ancient ancestors for them to judge whether a food was safe, and it is an important evaluation standard for the quality of many fruits today. The attachment of people to sweet foods not only comes from this evolutionary history of humans; but further, a mother’s milk that is first enjoyed by infants is sweet, and this good taste is deeply engraved in the memory of every child.
However, eating sweet foods in moderation is very important, and greed for these can lead to excessive calorie intake that can harm health. Along with the increasing severity of global obesity, diabetes and other health problems, many countries in the world are taking measures to levy a tax on sugary drinks, so as to actively create a healthier environment for consumers.
Adverse Effects Of High Calorie And Sugar Intake On Health
Sugar and sugary foods can meet the consumer demand for sweet, but with excessive consumption, will lead to high calorie intakes and this has become a hidden killer. At present, approximately 415 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide, and one person dies of diabetes every six seconds—this is higher than the sum of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria mortality rates.
Experts from the International Diabetes Federation and World Health Organisation (WHO) support the adoption of a sugar tax by countries, so as to achieve the purpose of controlling the incidence of diabetes. In fact, in 2014 WHO suggested that sugar intake should be less than five percent of total energy consumed in a day. Eating an excessive amount of sugary foods results in an overconsumption of energy as required by the human body, and this excess energy is converted to fat when not used, ultimately resulting in obesity.
Type II diabetic patients account for 90 percent of diabetic patients in the world, and this figure is increasing year by year, primarily due unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits. Further, almost two-thirds of the population are overweight.
At present, China has the largest number of diabetic patients in the world, and the problem of obesity has become increasingly prominent—more than 100 million obese people in China alone have already exceeded a BMI of 28; an acceptable BMI range is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Governments are increasingly concerned about the health of consumers, and they are moving in the direction of establishing new rules for the control of sugar and calories.
Implementing A Sugar Tax System
In an effort to guide people to form healthier eating and consumption habits, more countries are implementing a sugar tax system. This increases the cost for enterprises to produce high-sugar food and beverage products, which eventually leads to a price increase of these goods.
Under the regulation of this policy, on one hand, it will lead producers to adjust their product formulations and lead them to develop healthier products that have a lower tax; on the other hand, consumers will gradually realise the intention of the country’s regulation, and will more reasonably plan their diets and correct unhealthy consumption habits.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food safety certification and approval process requires all calorie statistics to be marked on the front side of any food package nutrition label. Also, calorie per unit product should be marked.
They have also proposed an improvement to nutrition labels: to mark additional information for sugar, regularly update limits of added sugar, and clearly indicate calorie, consumption amount and daily recommended intake.
In US, Philadelphia has implemented a tax on all sweet beverages effective June 2016. It now charges a tax of 1.5 cents per ounce for all beverages containing sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Countries in Latin America have also been made efforts to establish or implement a tax on sugar. As the country with the largest consumption of sugary beverage in the world, Mexico implemented such a tax in January 2014, making it the first country in the world to do so.
The Mexican sugar tax system prescribes that each litre of sugary beverage shall be levied according to the price of 1 peso (about US$0.01), so as to reduce sugar content in children’s food and junk food. Also, foods containing more than 275 calories per 100 g are to be levied at a special tax rate of eight percent.
A senior economist of American Cancer Society pointed out that the sugar tax system of Mexico plays a positive role in controlling excessive consumption of sugary beverages, but if taxes could be levied according to the calorie content, it could better guide people to choose a low-calorie sugary beverage instead.
Other parts of Latin America are also stepping up their efforts to improve the health of their populations. For example, Brazil Health Supervision Bureau (ANVISA) has revised its ban on the mix of nutritional and non-nutritional sweeteners.
The new law of Columbia that was approved and passed in 2014 requires calorie content in food to be reduced by 25- 30 percent and a new food labelling system has also been established.
In contrast, Chile has proposed a food calorie indication label similar to ‘traffic light’ system of Britain in their new law. Green represents that sugar content of the food is low, and the highest acceptable sugar content for this category is 7° Brix of beverage sugar.
Countries of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region are also actively establishing sugar tax systems.
As aforementioned, Britain uses the ‘traffic light’ system (green, yellow and red) to indicate contents of fat, sugar and salt in food—green indicates low content, and red indicates high content. Major regulatory agencies of EU possess the ability to closely monitor food security situations within the EU, and the French parliament has also discussed and passed its own version.
Britain will also be bringing in sugar tax revenue— announced for execution in 2018—into new government budget in 2016. For soft drinks with sugar contents exceeding 5g/100mL, sugar tax shall be levied according to 18 pennies (US$0.18) per litre, and for soft drinks with sugar content exceeding 8g/100mL, sugar tax shall be levied according to 24 pennies (US$0.24) per litre, with the exception of milk drinks and 100 percent pure fruit juice.
Sales of sugary drinks are prohibited in schools of Britain, and further, promotion of sugary drinks on children’s TV channels is prohibited.
Hungary has levied tax to foods with high sugar, high salt and/or high caffeine, mainly soft drinks with added sugar, energy drinks with added sugar and caffeine, savoury snacks, and spices with high salt content, etc.
The three countries of Ireland, Finland and Denmark have announced that they will be levying tax to sugary foods, mainly for soft drinks, ice cream and chocolate. Also, South Africa has brought sugar tax into its budget in 2017, but specific implementation details have not been announced yet.
Experts of Australia and New Zealand in Oceania have called for regulations to follow Britain in implementing a sugar tax. This is to target unhealthy populations and in so doing, ease obesity, diabetes, dental caries and other health problems of people due to excessive consumption of high calorie foods.
Formulation And Implementation Of Sugar Tax In Asia
Thailand may become the first country in Asia to propose a sugar tax. Thailand Reform Commission has plans to levy a tax where retail prices of beverages with sugar content between 6-10 percent will be increased by 20 percent. Prices of beverages with sugar content exceeding 10 percent will be increased by 25 percent. This policy will be announced and implemented after it is passed in cabinet meeting.
The Philippines has proposed the implementation of a soda tax in 2016, which will levy the tax of US$0.22 for each litre of sugary drinks, not including all natural fruits, vegetable juice, yogurt drinks, meal replacement drinks and milk.
Effective from 2017, the amount of tax will be increased according to the proportion of four percent per year.
Malaysia has terminated the subsidies for sugary foods in 2013, and the establishment of a tax system concerning sugary drinks is still in the negotiation stage.
Vietnam in contrast, proposed to levy 10 percent “bubble tax” to carbonated drinks in 2014, but under commercial pressure, this was cancelled in 2015.
Indonesia plans to implement a soda tax in 2017, but has yet to determine the specific expected tax rate.
China’s Possible Sugar Tax System
In China, with sugar supply exceeding demand and there being a substantial import of sugar, sugar prices are showing a downward trend, which has effectively reduced the production cost of sugary drinks but increased advertising costs of enterprises for new types of sugary drinks.
At such a time when consumer awareness of health can still be poor, it is easy for consumers to make less than ideal choices in food consumption that could lead to excessive energy and sugar intakes.
As the number of patients with diabetes and obesity continue to increase in China, it is necessary for the government to invest in health and nutrition education so as to improve consumers’ food habits and choices.
By increasing the production cost of high-calorie sugary drinks for example, on one hand this can reduce its sales volume; on the other, this can also create a better health awareness atmosphere in the whole society— guiding consumers to choose healthier foods and beverages.
Schools in Taiwan have to date banned the sales of drinks with high sugar content, but in mainland China, there is no specific law to control the adding amount of edible sugar in foods yet.
According to the Chinese Nutrition Association however, the Chinese government is planning to help manufacturers reduce the amount of sugar used in foods and beverages over the next two years.
Zero-Calorie Natural Sweeteners Bring Great Opportunities
Natural sweeteners such as stevia—which provides a zero-calorie sweetness—could be the inevitable choice for health for the contemporary consumer.
Today, over four billion people in the world are eating foods and drinks containing stevia sugar, and the safety of this ingredient is guaranteed by extensive research.
More than 200 studies, verifications, and national regulatory agencies in more than 65 countries of the world have approved its edible use.
When using stevia sugar as sweetener, besides ensuring superior sweet taste, it can achieve a significant reduction in sugar and calorie content in food and beverages. It is also suitable for the diets of pregnant women and diabetic patients—while also providing them with a sweet taste.