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Hygiene Tribune Middle East & Africa Edition No.3, 2017

PUBLISHED IN DUBAI May-June 2017 | No. 3, Vol. 7 Study estimates increase in healthy life years through sugar, fat and salt taxes The findings of a new Australian study suggest that taxes on foods containing unhealthy levels of sugar, salt and fat could help curb health care spending and extend people’s healthy life years. (Photograph: Pixabay/Pexels) By DTI MELBOURNE, Australia: Modelling the effect of different combinations of taxes on sugar, salt and fat and a subsidy on fruits and vegetables on the death and morbidity rates of Australians, a new study has found that imposing a tax on sugar could avert about 270,000 disability- adjusted life years. In addition, the research estimated that, when com- bined to maximise benefits, taxes and subsidies could reduce the coun- try’s health care spending by A$3.4 billion (€2.5 billion). In the Western world, non-commu- nicable diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dental caries, are mainly attributable to an unbalanced intake of fats, sug- ars and salt. In order to tackle the bur- den of those diseases, an increasing number of countries have already implemented or proposed taxes on unhealthy foods and drinks. How- ever, the actual cost-effectiveness of levies and subsidies on certain nu- tritional items to reduce the burden of diet-induced diseases is uncertain and can only be estimated. In the current study, researchers at the University of Melbourne simu- lated the effect of different combi- nations of taxes on unhealthy foods and a subsidy on fruits and vegeta- bles based on the Australian popula- tion of 22 million in 2010. The model analysis set the sizes of the taxes and subsidy such that combined there would be less than a 1 per cent change in total food expenditure by the average household. The results showed that a tax on sugar had the greatest impact among the taxes simulated. A sugar tax could avert 270,000 disability- adjusted life years (DALYs), the researchers calculated. DALYs are years of a healthy lifespan that are lost to disease. This equals a gain of 1.2 years of healthy life for every 100 Australians alive in 2010, which is a health outcome that few other pub- lic health interventions could deliver across the whole population, accord- ing to the researchers. In comparison, a salt tax was esti- mated to save 130,000 DALYs, a saturated fat tax 97,000 DALYs and a sugar-sweetened beverage tax 12,000 DALYs. As for a fruit and veg- etable subsidy, the study was unable to determine an isolated clear health benefit, although it too made for ad- ditional averted DALYs and reduced health sector spending, the research- ers wrote. The study adds to growing evidence of large health benefits and cost- effectiveness of using taxes and regulatory measures to influence the consumption of healthy foods. Based on the results of the models, the formulation of a tax and subsidy package should therefore be given more prominent and serious con- sideration in public health nutrition strategy, they concluded. The study, titled “Taxes and subsi- dies for improving diet and popu- lation health in Australia: A cost- effectiveness modelling study”, was published online on 14 February in the PLOS Medicine journal. (Photograph: Pixabay/Pexels)

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