In recent years, various countries have introduced taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and foods as a public health measure to combat obesity.
Taxes have traditionally been implemented as a means of revenue generation; however, SSB taxes illustrate the utility of taxation as a tool in health policy and one that has the potential to provide tax revenue for non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention and control.
Research on the health related impacts of taxation of sugar sweetened beverages is emerging and the evidence points to positive changes in consumption patterns as recently seen in Mexico where a six per cent decline in the purchase of taxed beverages was observed.
The Bahamas need to implement a SSB tax as a public health measure to reduce consumption of high sugar content beverages in an attempt to tackle increasingly obesogenic environments driving skyrocketing obesity rates and related conditions including diabetes, heart disease and cancers.
While the imposition of a SSB tax, in many respects would be driven by fiscal conditions, an environment exists in which it is recognised that there is a need to address the consumption of processed, energy-dense, nutrient poor foods and beverages.
Taxation to promote healthy behaviours has been shown to be effective. The World Health Organisation report, Using Price Policies To Promote Healthier Diets, reported that ‘the evidence suggests that price policies applied to food can influence what consumers buy and could contribute to improving health by shifting consumption in the desired direction and supporting healthier diets’.
SSB taxation should be implemented as one component in a comprehensive package of policy and programming interventions. Wide stakeholder consultations, including civil society organisations, should form part of the tax implementation strategy. Policies should be adopted and mechanisms developed to earmark tax revenue for NCD prevention and control.
The effectiveness of SSB taxes should be monitored and evaluated, and adjustments made to tax levels accordingly.
Consideration should be given to the extension of the taxes beyond SSBs to unhealthy foods, such as those high in sugar, fat and salt.
The Ministry of Health should provide platforms for sensitisation of stakeholders in the beverage industry of the adverse public health impacts of high sugar diets and the potentially significant health and economic gains to be made by companies which lead the way in reducing sugar content of their locally produced beverages.
More research is needed, still, to explore the sociocultural and economic factors that drive behaviours which lead to overweight and obesity throughout the life-course.