Three in every ten Bruneians and more than half of school-aged children in the country are obese. We are, by definition, facing an obesity epidemic. Obesity is linked to NCDs, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes, which are the top causes of death in Brunei society.
On this note, the Ministry of Health has done an admirable job in its efforts to reduce NCDs. Its introduction of the ‘Soda Tax’ on 1st April 2017, the Tobacco Order 2005, active health promotional campaigns, and other policies have been successful in reducing premature deaths from NCDs from 17% in 2009 to 14% in 2016. This I applaud.
It is then best to build on the success by introducing a 20% Sugar Tax on confectionery products (such as chocolates and candies) across the country. A UK study found that the products are the second highest contributor to sugar intake for UK children, closely trailing behind soft drinks. The same can be said for Brunei.
Taxing confectionery products would reduce sugar consumption among society and the youth, and as such reduce the rate of obesity and NCDs, and hence lift the heavy toll on the population’s health and the healthcare system.
Now, there is no doubt the policies can impose a higher cost of doing business. However, the cost would be relatively smaller compared to what the government is spending on healthcare yearly on NCD-related diseases.
For example, in Singapore, a diabetic patient would have to spend between $2,500 to more than $4000 per month or more than $48,000 per year for their treatment. Bruneians are lucky because the cost is borne out by the government’s pockets. Unfortunately, the government has to pay that cost and this adds a huge burden to the national budget.
Brunei should also make sure all supermarkets are discouraged from displaying confectionery products near the counters, as they can induce ‘impulse buying’ among consumers. School canteens should also be discouraged from selling sugary products in schools.
Finally, Brunei should ban the sale of energy drinks to those under 16 years old, as it can cause heart complications among young people. I hope these ideas can be considered.