Wednesday 22 November 2017

Election manifesto with a sweet touch and no lack of fizz

WITH the General Election now less than two weeks away, we're almost drowning in the stack of literature popping through the front doors, each party promising a more attractive manifesto than the previous one.

Every party is making bold and exciting claims about its plans to improve the country's health, jobs, education, housing and social welfare crises - and if all were to be believed, there's certainly a lot to look forward to.

One plan that has received a lot of attention, however, is Fine Gael's promise to introduce a 'sugar tax' of 10 cent on cans of sugary drinks - a move, interestingly, that had been shot down by Finance Minister Michael Noonan in pre-budget submissions last year.

Regardless of what has happened between then and now to change the party's stance, the move is one that has to be welcomed, as any steps to tackle the country's obesity crisis can only be viewed as a good thing.

In recent weeks, the issue of obesity and other dangerous diet-related health conditions were catapulted into the spotlight when RTÉ aired its 'Sugar Crash' documentary with Dr Eva Orsmond.

In it, the weight loss expert investigated Ireland's frightening consumption of sugar - the fourth highest in the world - and shockingly revealed the amount of sugar that is hiding in all kinds of unexpected foods, even those branded as 'healthy options'.

In a country with a health system practically on its knees, one cannot argue with a sugar tax on the worst offenders of our obesity crisis - fizzy drinks. Any incentive that urges consumers to think twice about their choice and that ultimately generates income for the government to reinvest in the health system is without doubt a welcome one.

But that said, one cannot help but ask whether or not it's enough. Should the issue of cost be the main reason why people choose not to pick up that can of cola, or does our next government - whoever that may be - need to go much further than that?

If Dr Eva's programme showed us anything it's that education around nutrition, healthy eating and exercise is key - and perhaps this is where the investment should lie.

Principals and teachers do a wonderful job of implementing healthy eating initiatives into their schools, but maybe this needs to be a mandatory part of the curriculum if we are serious about tackling the problem.

Physical Education is mandatory, so perhaps nutritional education should be too and that way our children will learn about the horrifying health consequences of their unhealthy eating habits from day one.

Our government is spending billions of euro dealing with the after effects of the country's unhealthy lifestyle, from obesity and diabetes to heart and liver disease , so now maybe it's time that as much emphasis and investment is placed on preventing the problem as is trying to cure its effects.

A sugar tax is of course a great start, but our next government needs to come up with a far broader and more serious action plan if we are to get anywhere in our battle against this life threatening epidemic.

Wexford People

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