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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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Opinion: Prevention is better than cure so there is no point in taxing vitamins

Those people who mind their health and take supplements save the state money by needing less healthcare writes Ciara Wright.

Ciara Wright PhD Nutritional Therapist

SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES shouldered a good deal of blame for the obesity epidemic worldwide.

Dutifully, Ireland introduced the ‘sugar tax’ in May 2018 on sweetened drinks. This has likely prompted some people to reduce their intake which would be ‘job-done’.

It also seems that some manufacturers have reduced sugar in their products and that too is a positive step. Others argue that consumers might simply have switched to cheaper brands as has happened in other countries that went before us. We will have no way of knowing yet whether this has made a dent on the Irish waistline.

There has been much debate over whether taxing fast food might help reduce obesity.

It is still cheaper to feed a family of four frozen pizza than it would be to give them all healthful vegetables or lean protein.

As it stands, take away foods benefit from a reduced VAT rate of 9%. So, while the tax on your takeaway pizza or burger remains at a reduced rate, the hike on vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fish oils is set to be 23% from 1 March.

The logic behind the sugar tax, as well as high taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, is based on the concept that the higher price will deter people from buying unhealthy items. So is the government trying to stop people from buying supplements?

Increased risk of disease

With regards to specific examples, it is truly hard to know where to start, but here are just a few. 

In Ireland, we have the highest incidence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the EU. As a result, we are constantly trying to compel women to remember to take folic acid before and during pregnancy.

In fact, in efforts to reduce our shocking incidence rates, we now tell women to take folic acid every day for the duration of their childbearing years. That’s a lot of years and now the government would like to earn 23% off that highly effective prevention.

Much like the effect of the sugar tax on the obesity epidemic, we will have no way of knowing the immediate impact of this tax until the incidence of neural tube defects goes up. That’s not an outcome anyone wants to track.

People living in Ireland have typically low vitamin D levels. We could try to get out the oars and paddle the whole island a bit further south, but for the moment we are stuck with long winters and grey days.

Vitamin D is critical for bone health and plays a crucial role in your immune system and fertility, to name but a few.

Many people find taking vitamin-D-drops during the winter months helps to improve their mood and wellbeing, and mental health services are a cost to the health system just as much as any other department.

The Mediterranean diet is the most widely studied diet in the world as it has numerous health benefits, including many which would have a serious price tag such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The Mediterranean diet has an omega-3: omega-6 ratio of about 1:1. While our diet has a ratio of about 25:1. Long story short – we should eat more fish.

Omega-3 has been shown in many studies to be useful in inflammatory conditions, reduce the incidence of diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, another massive and costly epidemic on its way. Supplementation is very useful in people who don’t eat enough fish, which incidentally, is most people.

Has anyone done the maths?
Do highly processed, high fat, high sugar take-away foods have a greater impact on the public finances in the long run? Of course they do -we know that the health care costs associated with the obesity epidemic are astronomical.

On the other hand, those people who mind their health and take supplements cost the state less by needing less healthcare. Supplements are all about preventative care and prevention has always been better than cure.

We should be promoting an ethos and standard of living that encourages self-care, health awareness and people being proactive about staying well.

That will reduce healthcare costs and help the state to balance the books. It means fewer doctors visits, fewer hospital stays, fewer ambulances call outs, less sick days off work, reduced reliance on statutory sick pay – the list of ways that being healthy saves the state money is simply endless.

Taxing health supplements appears to be an extremely ill-thought out policy. 

Ciara Wright PhD DipNT, Senior Nutritional Therapist and Director of Glenville Nutrition and The Wellness Crew: www.glenvillenutrition.ie www.thewellnesscrew.ie

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About the author:

Ciara Wright PhD  / Nutritional Therapist

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