Media campaign generates strong support for taxes on sugary drinks

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Through an innovative media campaign, The Heart Foundation of Jamaica, with support from Vital Strategies, finds that attitudes towards high-sugar drinks can be changed as their relationship to obesity and chronic disease is clarified. (Photo: Pexels)

TODAY, more than half – 54% – of Jamaicans over the age of 15 are overweight or obese, and rates of diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are also on the rise.

Sugary drinks now represent one of the largest sources of added sugar in the diet and have been recognized as a major contributor to obesity. Through an innovative media campaign, the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, with support from Vital Strategies, has discovered that attitudes towards these high-sugar drinks can be changed, as their relationship to obesity and chronic disease is clearly established.

In a new study published July 13, 2022 in a research journal Nutrients, researchers have shown that a four-step media campaign, “Are We Drink Ourselves Sick?” increased knowledge among Jamaicans of the dangers of sugary drinks and increased support for the adoption of policies to encourage healthier eating and living, including a tax on sugary drinks.

Based on representative, cross-sectional household surveys conducted before and after the launch of the media campaign, post-campaign awareness was independently associated with increased knowledge of the direct harms of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

“Non-communicable diseases [NCDs] perpetuating the cycle of poverty by depleting scarce household resources and productivity,” said Deborah Chen, executive director of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ). “Taxes on sugary drinks in Jamaica would be an effective way to reduce sugar consumption, and therefore NCDs. The HFJ remains committed to reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases and protecting the human right to health, both of which require restrictions on sugary drinks. »

Surveys conducted before and after the mass media campaign showed that more than three-quarters of respondents supported government action on high-sugar drinks in Jamaica.

As a result of the campaign, respondents were much more likely to support government efforts to enact and enforce policies discouraging Jamaicans from consuming sugary drinks. Post-campaign surveys showed that more than half of respondents supported taxes on sugary drinks and restrictions on these drinks in schools. This study demonstrates the role media campaigns can have in increasing support for policies to limit access to sugary drinks to address obesity and other NCDs.

“The need for action to address obesity in the Caribbean region is clear,” said lead author Donnelle Christian, communications manager, Caribbean region of Vital Strategies. “Mass media campaigns can be a useful tool in educating the public about the health consequences of ultra-processed foods and cultivating support for government policies. Greater knowledge of the harms of unhealthy foods and decisive government action, such as taxes on sugary drinks, can have a direct impact on reducing obesity and other chronic health conditions.”

Currently, Jamaica does not have a comprehensive policy that regulates unhealthy foods and beverages, many of which are aggressively marketed and cheap and readily available.

People interested in learning more about HFJ’s global advocacy project and Vital Strategies’ food policy program can visit https://www.heartfoundationja.org/campaign/global-health-advocacy-project/ and https://www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/food-policy/, respectively.

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