Media watch

New Zealand media headlines - February 2018

Catch up on the most topical issues in sugars and health making the headlines this month.

 1.       Report finds evidence that sugar taxes improve health is weak

Recently a paper which reviews the impacts of a sugar tax, was released publicly under the Official Information Act in New Zealand. The paper was commissioned by NZ Institute of Economic Research for the Ministry of Health, which under the previous National Government, had sought independent advice on the impact of a sugar tax.

The review found that while taxes appear to be passed through to prices, which likely result in some reduced demand, sugar taxes were unlikely to improve health outcomes. It emphasises that in order to draw this conclusion, a link between the impact of a sugar tax on increasing prices, reducing consumption, reducing energy intake and therefore reducing physiological risk factors is required, and the evidence doesn’t show this.

The report also found that no study based on actual experience with sugar taxes was able to identify an impact on health outcomes.  Earlier studies were said to significantly overestimate the effect of sugar taxes on sugar consumption due to fundamental flaws in the methodology, and these estimates have contaminated later modelling studies that report health improvements. The review concludes that the evidence suggesting sugar taxes improve health is weak.

2.       The importance of correctly labelling products

This month specialty milk brand Lewis Road Creamery pulled its latest milk product from shelves after discovering the sugar content on the nutrition information panel was incorrect. The new Breakfast Drinks had nutritional labels that detailed added sugars only but omitted the sugar that occurred naturally in milk.

For the vanilla flavour, the sugar content (natural and added) is about 5.7 grams higher than the first label showed, which was around 2.7 grams per 100mL. Company Founder, Peter Cullinane, said the product would be pulled from sale until more testing was done and, if needed, “further refinements” made. The Breakfast Drinks were also launched with a 5-star health star rating which Cullinane believes was based on the correct sugar figures.

3.       Investigation into artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy

Dr Clare Reynolds from the University of Auckland switched from normal fizzy drinks to diet versions during her first pregnancy to reduce her sugar and calorie intake. Figuring it was a rational move, Dr Reynolds went to review the research on this topic and found little had been done in this space. Now she is exploring what effects artificial sweeteners (specifically acelsulfame-K) consumed during pregnancy may have on a child’s metabolic and reproductive health in later life.

The study is supported by a three-year grant from the Health Research Council and will use a mouse model (used by scientists to simulate human biochemical and genetic responses – the offspring of the mice in this study will be tested for various hormone levels, specific genes linked to reproductive function, and the number of follicles in the ovaries) to pinpoint any effects before, during and after pregnancy.

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