The Nats are so desperate to avoid taking action on sugar’s role in the demographics of obesity that they’ve taken to talking pure drivel.
Health minister suggests that with a tax, obese children may switch from fizzy drink to… beer. #nationtv3
— The Nation (@TheNationTV3) October 23, 2015
Political editor Patrick Gower sat down with Dr Coleman and began by asking him what actually happens once a child is identified as obese at a pre-school check.
Jonathan Coleman: They will then get referred to appropriate professional advice …
You’ve justified not contemplating any form of junk-food tax by saying there isn’t enough evidence.
Well, you’re saying a junk-food tax. You mean a sugar tax.
Yeah, okay. Soft-drink tax.
Looking at a soft-drink tax –why not?
Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks.
And consumption dropped. That’s evidence, isn’t it?
Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect, so there were other things going on – a tanking Mexican economy, $30 billion drinking-water programme. It’s also not clear if there’s substitution to other beverages. So we’re saying, look, you know, there’s some evidence that’s being assessed – it’s going to be reported on in 2017 at Waikato University as well as the University of North Carolina – but there isn’t any direct evidence of causation that anyone can point to.
Well, the World Health Organization, which put out that major report recently, led by our own Sir Peter Gluckman, you know, that has said, and I will quote it for you, ‘The rationale and effectiveness of taxation measures to influence consumption are well supported by available evidence.’
Well, they might be talking about a decrease in sales. But what we want to know about is – is there a link to obesity directly? So, for instance, there might be a decrease in consumption of soft drinks, but are people drinking more flavoured milk? Are they drinking beer as a substitution? What is says in that report is that, actually, there isn’t clear evidence. On balance, they recommend it, but, look, that’s the WHO, you know? You would expect that they would take a very purist view. … [emphasis added]
Coleman is obviously prepared to go through any contortion to try and avoid the bleeding obvious. Because science rarely deals in certainty, any remaining shred of uncertainty is used as an excuse. I guess he’s just following in Key’s fine traditions (“He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview”). But as with the data on polluted water, or the evidence for climate change, we can only go on ignoring reality for so long before things fall apart.