Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) hosts media brief on “Health & Economic Loss of Sugar Sweetened Beverages”

Public health experts and civil society welcome an increase in taxes on flavored milk. Instead of Rs. 352 billion taxes on 144 necessities of life like flour, lentils, sugar, Rs 57 billion revenue can be attained from just one sugary drinks Tax. Not only will this reduce the health burden of US dollar 2640 million annually, but it will also get rid of diseases.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) along with civil society organizations organized an urgent media session here in Islamabad to record concerns on the mini-budget approved by the cabinet. Mr. Sana Ullah Ghumman, General Secretary and Director Operations of PANAH hosted the media session. The media session was attended by a large number of print and electronic media personals, senior journalists, and civil society representatives. Mr. Munawar Hussain, Consultant Food Policy Program at Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator Nutrition and NFA at Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, Vice President PANAH Ghulam Abbas, Senior journalist Tazeen Akhter, Raja  Liakat, Baber Mughal, Coordinator Ladies wing PTI Roohi  Hashmi, Representatives of Scaling up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance, Child Right Movement and other addresses the workshop.

Mr. Sana Ullah Ghumman, General Secretary and Director Operations of PANAH welcomed the participants and said that the objective of this workshop is to record concerns of health professionals and civil society on the mini-budget presented to the National Assembly. He said that it seems that Government has lost the opportunity to reduce non-communicable diseases (NCDs). He said that the health professionals and civil society is highly concerned as the tax has not been increased on a wide range of sugar-sweetened beverages. He said that Sugar-sweetened Beverages (SSBs) are one of the major diet-related causes of obesity and NCDs like diabetes, heart diseases, and various types of cancer. However, he welcomed the increase of tax on flavored milk. He said that flavored milk is loaded with a high amount of sugar and is increasing child obesity and other diseases. In fact, as compared to calories from solid food, liquid calories found in SSBs are less satisfying and won’t lead to the same feeling of fullness compared to eating an equal number of solid food calories. He shared that overweight and obesity are risk factors for 13 of the 15 major types of cancer. Decreasing SSB consumption can reduce the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases

Mr. Munawar Hussain, Consultant Food Policy Program at Global Health Advocacy Incubators said that diabetes is increasing in Pakistan at alarming rates. He said that nearly 31% of adults are now living with diabetes in Pakistan. He said that number of adults living with diabetes has increased from 19.4 million to 33 million in just the last two years. The annual expenditure on diabetes in Pakistan has increased to 2640 million US dollars in 2021 which is a great threat to our economy. There is a clear link between increased SSBs consumption and increased caloric intake. Sugars in these drinks alter the body’s metabolism, affecting insulin, cholesterol, and metabolites that cause high blood pressure and inflammation. These changes to the body increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, metabolic syndrome, and liver disease. He shared that a meta-analysis of 11 studies (including more than 300,000 participants) found a clear link between SSB consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Another meta-analysis of 8 studies (including more than 280,000 participants) found that a higher intake of SSBs was associated with a 30% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. He said that this situation needs urgent policy measures to reduce the menace of diabetes and other NCDs in the country. He said that increasing tax on SSBs is an evidence-based strategy to reduce its consumption, obesity, and associated diseases like diabetes.

Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator Nutrition and NFA mentioned that tax increase on fortification equipment and micronutrient premix can create challenges for ongoing nutrition programs in the country. He said that the Ministry of National Health Services, regulation, and coordination with the technical support of PANAH submitted two proposals for an increase of tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages which includes a health contribution bill and a proposal to increase federal excise duty. Both of these proposals are still pending with the finance ministry. These pending proposals if considered can bring more than 57 billion of the tax which could be used to fund the nutrition programs. He said that increasing the tax on flavored milk is a good step as these are loaded with high amounts of sugar and are harmful to children’s health.

Vice President PANAH Ghulam Abbas said that a healthy diet has central importance in the prevention of non-communicable diseases. Correcting our diet could help significantly reduce the morbidity and mortalities from NCDs. . The tax increase should be done on all types of sugary drinks on priority and along with other policy measures to control diabetes and other diseases.

Senior Journalist Tazeen Akhter said that High consumption of sugar, salt, and fats is among the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases. He added that flavored milk and formula milk should not be given to children as these are not substitute for healthy food and breastfeeding. He said that public awareness and policy changes are important to reduce the dietary risk factors on NCDs.  He said that as a Public Health Advocate, he supports increasing taxes on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Coordinator Ladies wing PTI Roohi Hashmi said that good nutrition is the fundamental right of the children. Unfortunately, the dietary habits of children are influenced by the storm of advertisements. She said that sugary drinks are harmful to children’s health. She mentioned that increasing obesity and overweight in children is alarming and raising our concerns. The younger population is now diagnosed with NCDs like diabetes. She mentioned that I support increasing taxes on SSBS and also suggest that the revenue generated should be spent on the good health and welfare of the children.

Representatives of the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance, the Child Rights Movement, and senior journalists praised the efforts of civil society, including PANAH, and said that practices that harm health should be increased so that they are out of reach of the public.

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