Opinion: Subsidise healthy food instead of sugar tax

PHOTO: Opinion: Subsidise healthy food instead of sugar tax

SINGAPORE - While Dr Jeremy Lim agrees that obesity is a growing challenge for Singapore, imposing taxes on unhealthy food is not the solution.

Instead, he suggests subsidising healthy food to encourage people to change eating habits.

"Subsidising healthy foods such as brown rice, whole grains and the like to render their prices equivalent to those of 'unhealthy' foods may help balance the scales better and be easier to implement," he said.

Dr Lim, 41, pointed out how the medical world erupted in a tizzy last month over a study published in a top medical journal that raised questions about the positives of polyunsaturated fatty acids and the ills of total saturated fats.

Noting how the debate left the public "none the wiser", he also said there were practical challenges in identifying which foods should be taxed.

For example, freshly squeezed orange juice with no added sugar has as many calories as an equal portion of soda.

"So do we tax orange juice?"

Related: Tax food high in sugar to make people healthier?

List

The doctor, who is fond of chin chow (a grass jelly drink) with less sugar, said it was easier to compile a non-controversial list of healthier food instead.

"Fundamentally, it's about making it easy for people to do the right thing. Civic society can help influence norms and shape what's desirable. We need to do multiple things to effect a positive switch."

The idea of a fat tax has also not taken off in countries which have tried it.

Introduced in Denmark, it was scrapped within a year after the government found that many Danes simply crossed over into neighbouring countries to do their grocery shopping.

Dr Lim, who is head of health and life sciences practice at consulting firm Oliver Wyman, added: "I wish obesity could be combated effectively with a 'magic bullet' like taxation, but alas, complex adaptive problems like obesity need holistic, eco-system approaches."

This article was published on April 7 in The New Paper. Get The New Paper for more stories.