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Minister calls for education – not a sugar tax

Doctors need to start thinking of prevention when treating patients

Health Minister Chris Fearne has called on doctors to step up preventive measures. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Health Minister Chris Fearne has called on doctors to step up preventive measures. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The introduction of a tax on sugar should only be considered if efforts to educate people to choose healthier eating options failed, Health Minister Chris Fearne said yesterday.

Malta’s health sector tended to focus solely on curing patients, Mr Fearne told a business breakfast on health organised by The Malta Business Weekly yesterday. It was high time prevention measures were given equal importance.

“I believe it is now time to start to focus a little bit more on measures that help prevent illnesses and not just cure them,” Mr Fearne said. Efforts in this regard, he went on, needed to be made by all members of society and not only by those directly involved in the Health Department.

For such a change to take place, the minister said, people needed to be made aware, for instance, of the importance of eating healthy.

“It’s no secret that a lot of the food consumed by the Maltese is ready-made, with most of this being imported from abroad,” he said.

The best approach is to do something through education

Asked whether it was time to introduce taxes on certain types of food, such as a tax on sugary food and beverages, Mr Fearne dismissed the idea, saying that he would rather educate people. The choice not to consume such products in large amounts, Mr Fearne said, should not be imposed through a tax but by seeing that people were well-informed on the dangers and willing to choose healthier options.

“The best approach is to do something through education and not imposition. I believe that we need to talk to people, educate and get them to voluntarily choose healthier options,” Mr Fearne added.

On how this would work, Mr Fearne said it was not enough to carry out campaigns and spread information but doctors too needed to start thinking of prevention when treating patients.

“The onus is on doctors and I can speak from experience, as a doctor, I know that if an overweight person comes to me with a cold, I would treat him for that and then send him on his way.”

Instead, Mr Fearne said, doctors should discuss with the patient ways to deal with the weight problem.

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