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Karl Henry: 'Why I'm calling for our government to tax sugar'


Karl Henry has simple rules to help you stay on your fitness track. Photo: Mark Nixon

Karl Henry has simple rules to help you stay on your fitness track. Photo: Mark Nixon

Karl Henry has simple rules to help you stay on your fitness track. Photo: Mark Nixon

We are living in an era of choice. Now more than ever before, people are incredibly focused on the ability to choose for themselves. But when it comes to our waistlines, cholesterol, body fat and the physical condition of our bodies, as a nation I am not sure that the ability to choose has served us so well.

We know that the Irish nation is one of the most out-of-shape in Europe, getting fatter faster than most other countries, across most age brackets. The school children, teenagers and college students are in worse shape than ever with little or no knowledge on how to cook, what to eat that is healthy, or how to change their lifestyles.

We live in a country where being overweight is now normal and in many respects acceptable. Weight and being unhealthy is creating medical conditions in young people that were unheard of 10 and 20 years ago.

But yet we hold onto the opinion that our choices don't need guidance. The concept of a tax on unhealthy foods is deemed to affect our rights to choose. But we know that that the choice will have a direct impact on our healthcare costs, health insurance claims, productivity in work and cost to the State in general.

The heavier, fatter and more out of shape we are as a nation the more of a burden we become on the State. The more we pay in tax just to help deal with the effects of not moving enough and eating poorly. So in fact, that choice is not making us any healthier. It's doing the exact opposite. The statistics speak for themselves.

Nor is that choice actually your own. You see, every store, supermarket, fast food outlet you walk into is trying to help make the decisions for you. Product placement, advertising, meal deals, offers on foods and smells are all there for a reason, that reason is to make you choose what the company wants and not what you want.

Before you even get to the store, advertising through TV, radio, billboards, social media and newspapers are all trying to help make the decision for you.

The fact that you yearn for a certain food or drink is not because you actually want it, it's because the company has succeeded in getting you to want it. That's what drives you to want it. It happens to me too, sometimes I crave junk food, sometimes I win that battle, sometimes I don't. I'm not perfect. For me, being in good shape takes hard work and lots of it; I have to fight those urges just like you.

That's why I think we do need help with our choices. We need to be guided by a body that has the waistlines and health of the nation at the core of its structure. One without too many representatives from every sector, one that can make decisions quickly and decisions that will impact the nation, now before it's too late .

Let's take three examples. The first being the city bike scheme and the bike to work scheme. Over the space of three years Ireland has become a nation of cyclists.

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The Government aided our decision to buy a bike by offering a tax break on them. The success of the scheme speaks for itself, it's there for all to see.

The city bike schemes are another example, these are now starting up in small towns around the country too, towns like Clonakilty. Dublin is now awash with city bikes, with new bike stops being installed around the city all the time.

Similarly the calories on menus concept is slowly taking shape. Now your decision is being influenced by showing you just what is in the foods that you are ordering. You will be in for several shocks, but those shocks are there to help guide you to something else, something that is better for you.

Does it work? In my opinion yes, I am aware it costs money to implement for businesses, but I think it is a powerful tool that can make a big difference.

Then there's the smoking ban, the most controversial of all. We led the way for the rest of the world; this has changed the environment of the world and we were the first. Helping to change the habits of the nation, changing your choices.

Look at how successful that has been, actually look at the successes of all three. All choices, all helped by Government and all incredibly beneficial.

I think we need more. Do we need a sugar tax? Yes. Do we need a new replacement for the food pyramid? Definitely. Do we need to test the fitness levels of our schools? Certainly. Do we need more tax breaks for healthy activities? Of course. Do we need more Government officials following in Enda and Leo's footsteps doing cycles and runs? You bet, if you're going to change the health habits of the country, let's lead from the top.

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