MANILA – The government’s move to impose excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverage drinks may not be the best solution to address obesity and other related illnesses, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) President Guenter Taus said on Thursday, August 31.
“Just because you increase taxes, it doesn’t mean people would not gain weight. It’s more in the lifestyle than the taxes you impose,” Taus said during the ECCP discussion forum “Food & Beverage For All” held at the Solaire Resort and Casino in Pasay City.
Under House Bill 5636, which was approved by the House of Representatives last May, a P10 excise tax per liter volume of capacity is to be imposed on sugar sweetened beverages.
The government has said this provision in the comprehensive tax reform package was part of a policy intended to boost health welfare.
However, several groups from the beverage industry as well as consumer organizations expressed their misgivings, calling it discriminatory and anti-poor due to the looming spike in the prices of sugar-laden drinks.
Taus pointed out that, even though the government can expect higher revenue from the tax proposal, it would not necessarily address obesity in a direct manner.
“As long as we don’t promote proper nutrition and lifestyle, eating the right food and exercise, we will never get rid of obesity,” he said.
Meanwhile, Taus urged the government to look for other approaches to end obesity in the country, instead of putting taxes on such drinks.
“You could provide alternatives and make people understand that it’s not only sugar that makes you obese but it’s also lifestyle in general,” he said.
The same view was echoed by Senator Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito, who viewed the proposed measure currently being scrutinized at the Senate as more of a revenue generating measure than a health measure.
“If it were really for health concern, they should be referencing the tax on content, not volume … if you really want to discourage excessive consumption of sugar,” the senator said, implying that the tax would depend on the how much sugar has been added to the beverage. The higher the sugar content, higher the excise tax would be.
Ejercito explained that this would force beverage companies to innovate and shift their line-ups into lower-sugar content drinks.
Under-nutrition, the bigger problem
Nutritionists, however, do not share the view that sugar is the sole reason for the nutrition problems among Filipinos. Instead, they raised concerns over what they considered the bigger public health problem in the country beyond the obesity and diabetes: Under-nutrition.
This condition refers to the lack of proper nutrition caused by not having the right mix of food necessary for growth and health.
According to Jean Sumpio, a nutritionist and diabetes educator, under-nutrition and malnutrition count among the root causes of obesity and diabetes.
Citing international studies, Sumpio said the long-lasting physiologic effects of undernutrition included a increased fat accumulation, insulin resistance, and hypertension.
Based on the survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institution (FNRI), three out of 10 Filipinos were overweight and obese in 2015.
The prevention of undernutrition should start in the early stages of the person’s life, specifically during the first 1,000 days, or the first three years of life, according to Sumpio.
“Let us open our eyes and ears and help everyone to come up with a better solution for our nutrition problem,” she said.
Dietitian Elaine Banares of the Manila Tytana College said correcting the nutrition of Filipinos should focus on informing them about proper sugar intake in their daily food consumption instead of imposing taxes.
Banares pointed out that promoting healthy lifestyle among Filipinos would help them control the right amount and mix of food they take.
“As dietitians, for us there is no such thing as good food or bad food. It’s more on moderation and balance,” she said.