Introduce ‘Sugar Tax’ to lower rate of obesity, NCDs

Three in 10 Bruneians, which include more than half of students, are obese. We are facing an obesity epidemic.

Obesity is linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes – the top causes of death in Brunei.

The Ministry of Health has done an admirable job in its efforts to reduce NCDs.

Its introduction of the ‘Soda Tax’ on April 1, 2017; the Tobacco Order 2005; active health promotional campaigns; and other policies have been successful in reducing premature deaths from NCDs from 17 per cent in 2009 to 14 per cent in 2016.

It is best to build on this success by introducing a 20 per cent ‘Sugar Tax’ on confectionery products (such as chocolates and candies) across the country.

A United Kingdom (UK) study found that confectionery products are the second highest contributor to sugar intake for UK children, closely trailing behind soft drinks.

The same can be said for Brunei. Taxing confectionery products would reduce sugar consumption and reduce obesity and NCDs.

This can reduce the heavy toll on the population’s health and the healthcare system. There is no doubt having a ‘Sugar Tax’ can impose a higher cost of doing business.

However, the cost would be relatively smaller compared to what the government is spending on healthcare yearly on NCD-related diseases.

For example, in Singapore, a diabetic patient would have to spend between SGD2,500 to more than SGD4000 per month or more than SGD48,000 per year for their treatment.

Bruneians are lucky because the cost is borne by the government. Unfortunately, the government has to pay that cost and this adds a huge burden to the national budget.

Brunei should also ensure that supermarkets are discouraged from displaying confectionery products near the counters, as they can induce ‘impulse buying’ among consumers.

School canteens should also be discouraged from selling sugary products in schools.

Brunei should ban the sale of energy drinks to those under 16 years, as it can cause heart complications among the young.

I hope the authorities can consider these ideas.

Abdul Malik Bin Haji Omar