Church health leader supports sugary drinks tax

Church leaders in Australia have expressed support for the sugar tax.

A bid to introduce a tax on sugary drinks in an effort to tackle obesity has the support of South Pacific Division Adventist Health Ministries leader Dr Chester Kuma.

In fact, Dr Kuma would like to see it go one step further with warning labels added to all sugar-sweetened beverages.

“With sugary drinks there’s very much a strong correlation between them and the rate of obesity we have today,” he said.

“It’s not just a problem in Western countries. It’s a huge problem in the South Pacific islands as well. Statistics reveal that the South Pacific is one of the most overweight regions in the world.

“In Suva (Fiji), for example, there is a local Coca-Cola factory. As a consequence, Coca-Cola is very cheap in Fiji and widely consumed. I have walked along the streets and seen young children drinking it, even babies being given it by their mothers.”

Sugary drinks are in the spotlight after the Grattan Institute released a report on Tuesday, calling on the Australian Government to introduce a tax on them to help recoup some of the costs of obesity to the community. It proposes an excise tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar, on all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks that contain sugar.

And last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report that urged global action to curtail consumption of sugary drinks.

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases.

“If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.” 

"Science has really just caught up with what we have known as a Church for the past 150 years."

Dr Kuma, who spent 30 years’ in the medical profession, said obesity is a major risk factor for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

He pointed out that the Adventist Church has long held the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle: a plant-based diet, exercise, sunlight, fresh water and no alcohol or drugs.

“With a plant-based diet sugar is low,” he said. “It’s also high in fibre, which helps to control the absorption of sugar; it’s protective.

“Science has really just caught up with what we have known as a Church for the past 150 years,” he said.

“My key message is that we have been given a wonderful health message, it’s worthwhile going back and recommitting to it and understanding the wisdom of these health principles that God has given to our Church.”