The Association of Consultant Physicians of Jamaica represents internists (i.e. specialist doctors for adults) and we are involved in patient care, teaching trainees, and conducting clinical research. We note the current conversation in the press about obesity and the proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, as we are heavily invested in this area. We have been alarmed for years about the epidemic of obesity and its associated chronic illnesses (e.g. heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, diabetes, cancer) and the resulting devastation to the people of Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the world. The amount of suffering and reduction of human capital is enormous, not to mention the tremendous health care costs. The potential economic devastation can reverse any gains Jamaica may have made recently in its economy. An analysis last month suggests that even if countries immediately attain the Millennium Sustainable Development Goals set by the World Health Organization, the tsunami of obesity will still devastate all economies globally and rob human capital.
We support the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and the Ministry of Health Move Program in trying to educate the public about the risks of excess weight and to reduce its complications. Recently, much has been discussed about the taxes of SSB which are being implemented in many countries, including the UK. The preliminary data from some countries, such as Mexico and Barbados, about its effectiveness are encouraging. However, we note that its effects are modest and thus this tax should not be thought off as a panacea. Rather, the use of taxes to influence human behavior is just one useful tool to tackle the problem of obesity and a platform of several interventions is needed. So, discounting healthy food to the public, reducing harmful marketing especially to children and youth, city planning to improve physical activity, providing safe areas for exercise (which is yet another reason to tame crime), adjusting the nation’s food policy, having more effective food labels (similar to graphic pictures used on tobacco products) and food education, as well as tobacco cessation, are just some of the methods that are needed to be deployed in the battle against obesity. Also, proper monitoring of the programmes is needed to access their efficacy and adjustment as necessary. A mammoth task? Yes, but the journey starts with a single step and the proposed tax on SSB is one such step. We also hope that any tax revenue would be used for health care and to fund other initiatives to reduce obesity.