that we need to put more regulations, even taxes, on unhealthy foods. So is
this nanny state or is it necessary? Geoff is with us now. Good morning,
Geoff Simmons: Good morning, Toni.
Interviewer: Thanks for coming along.
Geoff Simmons: Thanks.
Toni Street: What are you sort of suggesting here? What sort of foods
do you want to be taxed?
Geoff Simmons: Well, the problem is we eat too much sugar, fat, and salt.
When you crunch the numbers, those sorts of foods are
killing just as many people as smoking does. So it’s
starting to clog up our health system. So all those baby
boomers out there who are thinking they’re going to get hip
and knee operations in ten years time, the hospitals are
going to be filled with diabetics. So we need to treat it
as seriously as we treat smoking.
Interviewer: So how do you physically do it though? There will
obviously be a bit of opposition to this. And is it the
same as smoking? I mean, food is a necessity. Is that a
Geoff Simmons: Yeah. I mean, this is going to be much tougher to deal
with than smoking, yeah, because we got to eat, right? But
the same principles will apply. We can educate, we can
teach kids in schools how to eat well. We can regulate the
labels to show people what foods . . . give people labels
that they understand. I mean, no one understands the back
of these labels at the moment. So show them what the impact
is going to be on their health. Then we can start talking
about taxes and getting people to take more personal
responsibility as well.
Interviewer: So why do you think this would be better than, say, you
have fresh fruit and veg, why wouldn’t it be better than
dropping those prices? I mean, how do you get that balance
Geoff Simmons: Well, I think that’s got to be part of the deal as well,
but this could help pay for it. We’re cash strapped at the
moment, right? So if we start spending more, we need to tax
a bit more as well.
But on the GST, dropping GST from fruit and veg thing, I
mean, for the same amount of money, we could give vouchers
to every family with a child, say $5 a week per child, to
spend on fruits and vegetables. This has to be about the
kids. We have to start giving them good habits to start
with rather than dropping GST on fruit and veg.
Interviewer: Is there sort of any evidence that it will stop people
though, I mean, buying those foods just because it’s at a
higher price? I mean, veggies and fruit are still high, then won’t they just naturally gravitate towards that fatty food anyway.
Geoff Simmons: Well, there is evidence that prices do make a difference,
but it’s got to be part of a broader package. It’s back to
the same thing we did with smoking. We started with
educating. We started with getting the labels right. We got
it right into the school system right from an early age,
got good habits in place early.
Interviewer: So the education needs to come hand in hand, because
obviously if people don’t know which foods are bad and
which aren’t, it’s going to be an issue to start with.
Geoff Simmons: Absolutely. But there’s good evidence that shows that if
people know that certain foods are being taxed and they
understand why, then they’ll start to avoid them. The same
goes for if certain foods are being subsidised, like fruit
and vegetables, and they know why, they’ll use them more.
Interviewer: So what would you like to see happen now? What would be
the plan of attack? How do you get momentum behind this, I
Geoff Simmons: Well, I think people need to understand the real tsunami
of diabetes that’s coming. The trouble is that it’s ten
years away, and we need to start making the investment now.
No politician likes that sort of payback period. They want
something that pays back in three years. This is going to
pay back in ten years. But people need to know that the
hospitals will be full in ten years time with diabetes
patients, and we’re not going to be able to get the health
care we currently enjoy. So once people understand that, I
think they’ll start to demand action.
Interviewer: Well, Geoff, thank you for joining us. It’s certainly an
issue that is a concern, and thanks for bringing it to us
Geoff Simmons: No problem.