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Mass Media Campaign Generates Significant Support for Taxes on Sugary Beverages

New research from The Heart Foundation of Jamaica and Vital Strategies shows Jamaicans heed warnings about the harms of sugar-sweetened beverages and the majority support government action for a sugary drinks tax.

13 July, 2022 – KINGSTON, JAMAICA – Today, greater than half (54%) of Jamaicans over the age of 15 are overweight or obese, and rates of diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are also rising. Sugary drinks now account for one of the largest sources of added sugar in diets and have been established as a major contributor to obesity. Through an innovative mass media campaign, The Heart Foundation of Jamaica, with support from Vital Strategies, found that attitudes towards these sugar-laden drinks can be shifted, as their relationship to obesity and chronic disease is made clear.

In a new study published 13 July 2022 in Nutrients, researchers have shown that a four-stage mass media campaign, “Are We Drinking Ourselves Sick?” increased Jamaicans’ knowledge about the dangers of sugary drinks and increased support for policy passage to encourage healthier diets and lives, including a sugary drinks tax.

Based on representative, cross-sectional household surveys, conducted before and after and the launch of the media campaign, post-campaign awareness was independently associated with improved knowledge of the direct harms of sugary drinks, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

“Non-communicable diseases [NCDs] perpetuate the cycle of poverty by draining scarce household resources and productivity,” said Deborah Chen, Executive Director of The Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ). “Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in Jamaica would provide an effective means of decreasing sugar consumption, and therefore, NCDs. The HFJ remains committed to reducing the burden of NCDs and protecting the human right to health, both of which necessitate restrictions on sugar-laden drinks.”

Surveys conducted before and after the mass media campaign showed over three quarters of those surveyed supported government action concerning high-sugar drinks in Jamaica. Following the campaign, respondents were significantly more likely to support government efforts to pass and enforce policies discouraging Jamaicans from consuming sugar-laden drinks. Post-campaign surveys exhibited that greater than half of those surveyed were in favor of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and restrictions on these beverages in schools. This study demonstrates the role mass media campaigns can have in increasing support for policies aiming to limit access to sugary beverages to confront obesity and other NCDs.

“The need to take action to address obesity in the Caribbean region is clear,” said lead author Donnelle Christian, Communication Manager, Caribbean Region of Vital Strategies. “Mass media campaigns can be a useful tool in educating the public about the health consequences of ultra-processed foods and cultivating support for government policies. Greater knowledge of the harms of unhealthy foods and decisive government action, like taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, can have a direct impact on reducing obesity and other chronic health conditions.”

Currently, Jamaica does not have an overarching policy that regulates unhealthy foods and drinks, many of which are aggressively marketed and are cheap and readily available.

Click here for more information about the Heart Foundation of Jamaica’s Global Health Advocacy Project.

Click here for more information about Vital Strategies’ Food Policy Program.

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 unhealthy foods and promotion of policy change.

To find out more, please visit https://www.heartfoundationja.org or follow on Instagram and Facebook: @heartfoundationja.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.

To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Media Contact:

K. Morrish Cooke, The Heart Foundation of Jamaica
jctc@heartfoundationja.org; +1 (876) 960-8293/926-6492/926-4378 Ext: 242

Rachel Burns, Vital Strategies
rburns@vitalstrategies.org; +1 (332) 259-6397