Soft drinks being tested in Sweden (left) and Health Minister Gabriel Wikström. Photos: Erik Nylander/Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Sweden won't be following the UK's lead in imposing a sugar tax, despite rising obesity in the Nordic country, writes Health Minister Gabriel Wikström.
Right now there is a debate about how to reduce the rising number of people who are overweight or obese, which is a growing problem in Sweden.
I welcome these discussions. They represent an important shift after eight years of a conservative government that turned a blind eye to the trend and put all of the responsibility on individuals. Unlike the previous administration, I am convinced that this is a problem.
We know that obesity is increasing and is becoming one of our greatest public health challenges. The World Health Organization suggests that almost one in four Swedish people will be obese in 15 years if we do not manage to reverse the trend. Even today, one in four ten-year-olds are overweight.
With the UK announcing its plans for a sugar tax on soft drinks, the question of introducing a similar tax in Sweden has come to the fore.
It is good that individual measures such as the one being tried in the UK are being debated, but I think we need to take a more holistic approach and see how we can combine different efforts in a range of areas.
It will be interesting to follow the progress and results of the sugar tax that Britons now face. At the same time I think that taxes of this kind can be problematic. Right now, it is not appropriate to impose a special tax on sugar in Sweden.
But let me be clear about one thing: I will nevertheless do everything I can to reverse this disturbing trend that we are seeing in the health field. This is a social problem. We need to get out into the community and take responsibility. But instead of discussing specific initiatives or efforts, we need to take a more all-encompassing approach to the issue.
The government is therefore asking Sweden's Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) to launch a project with a special focus on the overweight and obese. The mission is about developing a basis for stepping up efforts to reduce health problems related to obesity and physical inactivity. It will require broad and ambitious efforts in all areas of society to try to reverse the trend. It may also demand new tools, methods and perhaps even legislation.
We also already know that health and exercise go hand in hand. Yet in the last 15 years the health gap in Sweden has increased. This government wants everyone, regardless of their gender, their background or the size of their parents' wallets to get the opportunity to play sports and sees this as a key step towards reducing health inequalities. The sports movement can play a central role in improving health.
In this year's budget we therefore supported the sports movement with a total of 197 million kronor ($24 million). This is an important initiative to help promote physical activity among more children and young people and – in the longer term – to create better conditions for good health for everyone.
These are just some of the efforts that the government is now implementing to reduce growing obesity in Sweden.
Essentially, we need an active policy that takes a holistic approach and understands that everyone has the right to good health. We can not be content with leaving all the responsibility to the individual. The Swedish model for solving a major public health challenge is to do it together.
Gabriel Wikström is Sweden's Health Minister. A Swedish version of his article was first published in Aftonbladet.