Swedes consume twice the EU average and 30,000 – 60,000 children are so obese that they risk a premature death as a result of diabetes, cancer and heart attacks, the researchers argue in an opinion article in the Dagens Nyheter daily.
“It is high time for Sweden to discuss a sugar tax and perhaps use the money to cut taxes on fruit and vegetables,” Claude Marcus, Stephan Rössner, Lennart Levi, André Persson and Thomas Hedlund write.
The three Karolinska Institutet researchers, co-authors of the popular book “Godis åt folket” (Sweets to the people), point to figures from the Swedish National Institute of Public Health (Folkhälsöinstitutet) showing that every second Swedish male and every third woman is overweight. Over 10 percent of the Swedish adult population is classified as obese.
Furthermore every fifth schoolchild is overweight, and 3-5 percent are obese – a doubling since 1990.
The five experts observe that according to the National Food Administration (Livsmedelsverket) almost 25 percent of the energy consumed by children up to 15-years-old is from fatty, sugar-enriched, and low nutrition foods.
“Of course exercise is important to increase energy expenditure but in reality it is a question of Swedes cutting consumption of high-energy foods,” they write.
The experts argue that prices for sweets and soft drinks have not climbed as much as fruit and vegetables from 1985 to 2008, showing an effective relative decline of 56 and 6 percent respectively.
This development is the basis for their call to dramatically increase tax on sugary foodstuffs in order to curb high consumption.
Norway, Denmark and Iceland have already introduced selective purchase taxes on soft drinks and other sugary foods, the experts observe, and argue for Sweden to follow suit.
The example of tobacco and smoking is cited as an example of a successful application of price and tax mechanisms to curb consumption, with Sweden now enjoying one of the lowest rates of habitual smokers in the world (12 percent).
The experts refer to an instinctive resistance to selective taxes and moralizing as potential arguments against a new sugar tax, but argue that the deteriorating public health situation demands stern measures.