Working in the health sector these past few years I've become very aware of the obesity epidemic that is on its way. Leaving aside the health issues and wasted lives, it was alarming to hear about today's claim that sickness caused by high sugar consumption is set to slash New Zealand's future economic growth by more than 20 percent over 20 years.
In fact "alarming" is far too small a word.
Just a few days ago in Rotorua I heard Health Minister Jonathon Coleman address the Rural General Practice Network conference. At the end he took questions in front of the several hundred doctors in the room.
Every question was a plea for the introduction of a sugar tax. Every one.
Every questioner was applauded from the floor.
Every plea was totally rejected by the Minister. "A sugar tax is not on the government's agenda," he said. Over and over.
That comment was met with total silence. After about the sixth round, for one awful moment I thought the audience was going to boo. They didn't. They're doctors and have good manners. It would have been really rude.
But frankly the Minister would have deserved it. He's a doctor too. Yet he came across with the kind of superiority and arrogance that we have come to expect from Hekia Parata when she deals with teachers. Forget all your wisdom, training, caring and experience in the field - I am the Minister, I know best, get over it.
Something HAS to be done. Food processing companies are adding more and more and more sugar to everything we consume. Meanwhile processed foods often appear so much cheaper than fresh - it wasn't always like that? Is there something wrong with the cost model in our distribution chain? Are manufacturers cynically and knowingly creating a massive public sugar addiction?
I'm not saying I think a sugar tax is a good thing or otherwise. But its worth a look - especially as neither the government nor anyone else seems to have any better ideas. It seems a simple enough concept to me - not too different to excise duties on alcohol and tobacco, and for a similarpurpose of dissuading consumption and thus offsetting the public harm and cost.
Surely any solution is better than sitting on our hands in denial, which is what the government seems to be doing about obesity and sugar.
If they've got a better idea they should tell us. If not, they must listen to those who have, including the GPs, and engage in a civilised denate.
Failure to do so is condemning thousands of today's New Zealand kids to a lifetime of disability. Be it on the government's heads.