Sugar tax not on hk agenda

Local | Mary Ann Benitez 15 Sep 2017

Hong Kong is unlikely to introduce a sugar tax to help stem childhood obesity for now, despite the World Health Organization encouraging member states and places to lower sugar in food served to children through fiscal measures.

Instead, Hong Kong will introduce a front-of-pack low-salt-and-sugar labeling scheme for prepackaged food, step up promotion of healthy eating in preschools and primary schools, and implement the "calorie" indication pilot scheme at staff canteens of public hospitals, The Standard has learned.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said last year when she was then undersecretary that a committee is trying to work with the drinks industry "to see if it is willing to reduce the amount of sugar in its drinks."

The Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, chaired by Executive Council convener Bernard Charnwut Chan, was set up in March 2015 to make recommendations to the health secretary on the formulation of policy directions and work plans to reduce the intake of salt and sugar by the public, as well as to reduce salt and sugar in food.

A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said yesterday there are "divergent views locally and internationally on the effectiveness of introducing fiscal measures as a means to reduce the intake of sugar from food among the general public."

But the WHO is recommending that governments ensure the intake of free sugars be below 10 percent - about 5 percent - of total energy, said Francesco Branca, director of the WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development in Geneva.

"This is easily surpassed if you, for example, regularly drink soft drinks or fruit juice. They all contain free sugars. Sugar is present in many foods," said Branca, pictured.

Branca gave a talk at a recent Belt and Road High Level Meeting for Health Cooperation in Beijing, which was also attended by Chan.

Branca said the consumption of soft drinks is highest in the Americas and also increasing in Asia.

Childhood obesity data from 2016 found close to 41 million children under age five are overweight and obese, globally, with half of them living in Asia.

"China is the number one country in the world in terms of obesity in adults. It had 43 million men and 46 million in women who were declared obese in 2014," he said, quoting findings from The Lancet medical journal. China data include Hong Kong, he said.

The Food and Health Bureau said it is adopting a "step by step approach."

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