81% of Jamaicans Support a Tax on Sugary Drinks if Revenue Supports Childhood Obesity Prevention Programmes

Recognizing February as Heart Month, the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) is launching a new phase of its ongoing obesity prevention media campaign on February 22. The campaign is calling for action to support the health of Jamaican children by way of supporting a sugary drinks tax, which can help reduce children and adult consumption of sugary drinks. Entitled “Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick?,” this campaign tells the truths of real Jamaicans- a type 2 diabetic, family physician, and a dental surgeon. Each testimonial tells the real-life story from a first-person perspective of the actual and possible health consequences of excess consumption of sugary drinks: type 2 diabetes, obesity and other NCDs, and tooth decay respectively, with an emphasis on children and young people.


“Protecting our children is priority as they are the future of our population” said Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Technology, Professor Fitzroy Henry. “We must continue to help them reduce their sugar consumption and prevent them from becoming overweight and obese. One such measure is to implement a sugary drinks tax.”


81% of Jamaicans support a sugary drinks tax if the proceeds go towards funding obesity prevention programmes, particularly for children. This finding is from the results of the latest Jamaica Obesity Prevention Campaign survey released in September 2018. The survey also showed that 71% of Jamaicans support a sugary drinks tax in general.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) publication Taxes on sugary drinks: Why do it? (2017), states that taxation on sugary drinks is an effective intervention to reduce sugar consumption. In fact, it adds, evidence shows that a tax on sugary drinks that increases prices by 20% can lead to a reduction in consumption of around 20%, thus preventing obesity and diabetes.


The WHO also says revenue generated by these taxes could be spent on efforts to improve health care systems, encourage healthier diets, and increase physical activity. This could also be used to support childhood obesity prevention programmes.


“The evidence is that a sugary drinks tax can help reduce consumption of sugary drinks. Jamaica needs to act now if we are to stop the alarming increase in the rates of childhood obesity” said Deborah Chen, Executive Director of the Heart foundation of Jamaica. “We need to implement fiscal solutions that can both address the behaviour of consumers and simultaneously provide revenue to support the public health system to benefit Jamaicans. We have to work together to improve the health of our population, especially our children.”

Three out of 10 children in Jamaica are either overweight or obese and this number is rising dramatically. Childhood obesity in Jamaica has increased by nearly 64% in seven years, according to The Global School Health Survey (2017). This will have serious impacts on the future health and economic development in Jamaica. Estimates from WHO and UNDP found that Jamaica’s economy will lose more than 77.1 billion Jamaican Dollars between 2017 to 2032 due to costs of cardiovascular and diabetes alone. In addition, global health organizations like the World Health Organization, PAHO, International Diabetes Federation, have warned about excessive sugar consumption as a major cause of obesity and its related diseases, as excessive sugar intake causes increased risk of diabetes, liver and kidney damage, heart disease, and some cancers. This underscores the importance of these public awareness campaigns.


The “Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick?” campaign will run on TV, radio, in newspapers, on social media and on billboards. Jamaicans are encouraged to share messages about the campaign on social media using the hashtags: #AreWeDrinkingOurselvesSick, #SugaryDrinkstax and #Tax4Health. They can like, comment, share or repost content from the Instagram or Facebook pages of @heartfoundationja.


Further information and stills from the campaign are available upon request.

 About the Heart Foundation of Jamaica

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) was formed, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) by the Lions Club of Kingston, in 1971. The Foundation is a member of the InterAmerican Heart Foundation, the Framework Convention Alliance, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition and the World Heart Federation and is involved in prevention programmes for cardiovascular disease.  In September 2018, the Heart Foundation of Jamaica commenced its Global Health Advocacy Project (GHAP).  The project supports obesity prevention through mass media campaigns for increased awareness of the harms of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) and promotion of policy change.

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact K. Morrish Cooke, Communications Officer at the HFJ at 876-960-8293 or email: jctc@heartfoundationja.org.