Wednesday May 26 2021

Increase taxes on sugar beverages to prevent diabetes, Pakistan urged

  • Diabetes body urges Pakistan to raise taxes on sugar beverages.
  • The increased tax aims to reduce burden of diabetes on individuals and families affected by diabetes and to do more to prevent diabetes in population.
  • Currently, about 19.4 million people in Pakistan have diabetes.

KARACHI: Pakistan has been recommended to "seriously consider" increasing the taxes on sugar beverages in its upcoming budget to prevent diabetes among people.

The recommendation comes from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

"We support the request of the Diabetic Association of Pakistan to increase excise duty on sugar-sweetened beverages to 20% and broaden the category beyond its current definition to include juices, energy drinks, flavoured milk, iced tea and other drinks sweetened with added sugars,” IDF President Prof Andrew Boulton and President-elect Prof Akhtar Hussain said in a joint letter to the government of Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan ranked fourth in the world for diabetes prevalence

In their recent letter to the FBR chairperson, a copy of which is available with Geo News, the IDF office-bearers expressed their concern about the high number of people living with diabetes in Pakistan.

Currently about 19.4 million people in Pakistan have diabetes.

The IDF officials said that many more are at high risk of developing diabetes.

“Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has hospitalised and claimed the lives of people living with diabetes disproportionately, underscoring the elevated risk from infectious diseases to people living with the condition,” the letter read. It added that high taxation on sugar beverages to reduce consumption has been highly effective in reducing the burden of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

More than a third of adults in Pakistan are are either obese or overweight and at increased risk of diabetes and other health problems, the IDF officials said.

They said they want to encourage the government of Pakistan to take action to tackle diabetes through measures designed specifically to reduce the burden of diabetes on individuals and families affected by diabetes and to do more to prevent diabetes in the population.

“We are cognisant that, on the 31st of May, the FBR will submit its proposals to the Ministry of Finance for the forthcoming budget. We would like to propose the government give serious consideration to fiscal policies (including raising taxes on SSBs) that can help reduce the consumption of goods detrimental to health and encourage citizens to make healthier choices,” they added.

Read more: Diabetologists stress on more diabetes foot clinics to prevent disability

Around 50 countries have introduced such measures to date, including in South-East Asia the IDF Middle East and North African Region (India, Maldives, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and Qatar). In every region, diabetes is spiralling out of control and has become a global health emergency.

“Diabetes presents a significant threat to economic advancement, particularly in low and middle-income countries, where more than three in four of all people with diabetes now live. Almost two-thirds (63%) of people with diabetes are of working age. The life-changing complications of diabetes place a heavy burden on individuals, families and economies”, they highlighted.

Consistently high blood-glucose levels can lead to serious diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, nerves and teeth. Diabetes is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputation, they added.

How increased taxation can help control diabetes in Pakistan

A recent study of the consumption trends for sugar beverages in Pakistan (Datta and Husain, 2020) shows that carbonated beverages have become an integral part of the Pakistani diet.

They constitute 70% of non-alcoholic beverages consumed. 

This is true at both ends of the income spectrum: for wealthier households SSBs have, seemingly, become a must-have consumable, while in poorer households an increasing amount of expendable income is spent on carbonated beverages – income that could be better spent on consumables more beneficial to family wellbeing.

Increased tax revenues can provide additional revenue for investment in encouraging healthy habits by incentivising the consumption of products that promote health and support action to encourage increased physical activity.