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Sweet decisions, bitter consequences

Jan 19,2022 - Last updated at Jan 19,2022

The current decision to reduce taxes on cakes and other sweet goods from 16 per cent to 5 per cent is a very dangerous policy decision with disastrous consequences for the health of children and adults in Jordan. The sugar, trans fats and hydrogenated oils used in these products has been linked to an array of inflammation and chronic diseases (non-communicable diseases- NCDs) such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer, to name a few. 

The National Health Strategy 2015-2019 in Jordan has highlighted the dangerous increase of NCDs in Jordan in terms of their mortality rate, which for the year 2008 was established at 727 per hundred thousand people compared to 573 per hundred thousand people at the global level. In 2011, following the UN Political Declaration on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, Jordan formulated its national strategy and plan of action against diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia and obesity in which experts warned about unhealthy dietary habits and their negative impact on the health of Jordanians. 

While the tax reduction in these products may be perceived as a relief to many families in Jordan trying very hard to make ends meet each month, promoting the consumption of these sweets incentivises an unhealthy dietary habit from a very early age, as these products and their flashy packaging target the youngest population. Consumed with extreme moderation, packaged sweets can provide a quick fix to relieve daily anxieties. Comfort food, however, is not a solution and cannot be a substitute for incentivising the habit of a healthy diet from an early age. 

Science is very clear on the negative health impact of these sweet foods in human beings and health economists have measured the financial burdens on health systems worldwide as a result of rising NCDs due to, among other factors, unhealthy diets. As the costs on public healthcare systems increase, most governments around the world are gauging the implementation of taxes on sugary products (mostly to sugar beverages) to curb national rising trends in NCDs. 

Broadly understood, public health refers “the promotion of health and well-being in its widest sense, the wider determinants of health and a general sense of common interest or good”. (Berridge, OUP: 2016) From this perspective, the question arises as to why is the government of Jordan implementing a tax reduction on cakes and sweets that goes against best practices in public health and has the potential to burden the already fragile public healthcare system in Jordan. 

At ARDD we believe public health is a shared responsibility between individuals and the government, that aims at enhancing the well-being of the general population guided by a general sense of the common good in an interconnected, globalised world. While the government should implement policies conducive to reducing health risks, ensure environmental conditions that sustain good health and reduce health inequalities, individuals bear a responsibility to follow healthy habits in their daily life.

The writer is a Ph.D., senior adviser ARDD.

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