Steve Crew, chief executive of Diabetes New Zealand, said sugar should not be treated like tobacco.
"You can't tax sugar like you can tax tobacco. Tobacco isn't in everyone's everyday life,” Crew said at the start of Diabetes Action Month, a campaign to promote awareness of the disease.
"Addressing obesity needs to be more of a holistic approach. It should be about education, empowering people to make better choices.”
Carew said 250,000 New Zealanders had diabetes, and at current rates one in four others risked developing it.
PM cool on impost
A study last year by researchers at Otago University suggested that a tax on fizzy drinks could save lives and generate millions of dollars in revenue for health programmes in New Zealand.
It estimated that a 20% tax on fizzy drinks would reduce energy consumption by or 20kJ a day and help avert or postpone around 67 deaths a year from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diet-related cancers.
However, Prime Minister John Key last month said the government would not impose a sugar tax “at the moment” even though lifestyle diseases like diabetes have been growing significantly across the country.
"The problem with sugar tax is: so you put a sugar tax on fizzy drinks fair enough, OK. But what about everything else sugar is in?” Key said in an interview after unveiling a five-year plan to tackle diabetes with an emphasis on healthy lifestyles.
"We do need to resolve these issues, but it's a combination of education and exercise.”
Opposition demand more action
His pragmatism has drawn the ire of opposition politicians, who say the plan does nothing to curb obesity.
"Currently 1.2 million Kiwis are overweight and the Government needs to legislate to tackle obesity head on," said NZ First's Barbara Stewart.
Stewart’s party has advocated the removal of goods and service tax from healthy foods, while the Green party fully supports a tax on sugary drinks, which it believes should be banned from sale in schools.
"There should be a tax on sugar-laden drinks to drive down consumption, with all revenue pumped back into obesity prevention and other health programmes,” said Kevin Hague, the Greens’ health spokesman.
Diabetes Action Month will include a series of initiatives in New Zealand in November, including an online risk awareness tool, a nationwide roadshow moving across 14 towns and cities, and free services at sporting facilities across the country to get people more active.
It is backed team of high-profile personalities including former netballer Irene van Dyk and Bronagh Key, who will each participate in a challenge sponsored by Fitbit, the activity tracker startup, by committing to doing at least 10,000 steps a day and competing to outdo each other.