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Public Forum on The ‘cost’ of sugar

By Cherie Stayner

Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research, a University of Otago flagship Research Centre housed in the Department of Medicine, along with the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge (also based in the Department of Medicine) and A Better Start National Science Challenge, co-hosted a free public forum on The ‘cost’ of sugar at the Auckland City Hospital on Thursday 16 March, 2017.

The topics discussed included the cost of sugar to our health, the impact a reduction in sugar consumption could have on sugar-producing nations, and the case for taxation of sugar sweetened beverages.

Panel members (from left) Professor Tony Blakely, Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, Professor Jim Mann and panel chair Kim Hill

A popular event

The forum received a lot of public attention; places “sold-out” only two weeks after registrations opened and the discussion #costofsugar was trending on Twitter during the forum, reaching 1st place in New Zealand. The discussion was recorded by Radio New Zealand and was broadcast on RNZ National on Friday 14 April.

Access the recording online:

The ‘cost’ of sugar, Radio New Zealand website, 12 April, 2017 (51mins, 30sec).

Focusing on the key points

Experts on the panel

The event brought together three leading experts to discuss the cost of sugar to our society. Professor Jim Mann from the Department of Medicine, DSM, summarized the evidence for the cost of sugar to our health, including the current WHO recommendations on sugar; Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, Chief Scientist at the Environmental Protection Authority, highlighted the potential social and economic consequences of reducing global sugar intake on sugar-producing countries; while Professor Tony Blakely from the Department of Public Health, UOW discussed how taxation might contribute to a reduction of the high level of sugar consumption in New Zealand.

The event was chaired by renowned broadcaster Kim Hill, one of New Zealand’s finest current affairs interviewers.


Entertaining and informative discussion

The ‘cost’ of sugar public forum was a highly informative and thought-provoking event. The discussion highlighted the wide-ranging impacts of sugar, and emphasised the current research evidence about this complex and controversial topic. The result was a lively exposé of what we know, and still don’t know, about the cost of sugar in our society.

The cost of sugar forum sold-out in two weeks, attracting a wide-ranging audience.

The ‘cost’ of sugar forum expert panel


Professor Jim Mann, University of Otago, is a leading expert in human nutrition, diabetes and obesity. For over 20 years he has advised the World Health Organisation about the role of nutrition in diseases such as diabetes and heart disease,and has published recent research on the role of sugar on our health.

Professor Jim Mann

Jim has worked as a consultant physician (specialising in Endocrinology) in Dunedin Hospital for the past 25 years.


Professor Jacqueline Rowarth is the Chief Scientist for the Environmental Protection Authority, a role she embraced last year, after 35 years in teaching and research, most recently at the University of Waikato.

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth

“My new role is a considerable change from teaching but, as my students know, I have a focus on facts, evidence and data, analysis and synthesis.”

She has a degree in agricultural science with honours in environmental agriculture, a PhD in Soil Science (nutrient cycling) and research in carbon, nitrogen, food and economics.

Professor Rowarth was made Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to agricultural science in 2008.



Professor Tony Blakely, University of Otago (Wellington) is an epidemiologist and directs the HRC-funded Burden of Disease Epidemiology, Equity and Cost Effectiveness Programme (BODE3).

Professor Tony Blakely

This programme builds infrastructure (e.g. linked routine datasets) and capacity (e.g. epidemiological and economic decision modelling) to rapidly assess the health impact and cost effectiveness of a range of preventative and cancer control interventions —and examine their equity impacts. In 2016–2021 BODE3 is modelling a range of preventive interventions, including dietary and physical activity interventions.


The sugar forum hosts

The hosts are three leading research groups that share a common interest in tackling the health problems New Zealand is facing as a result of increasing levels of obesity and diabetes.

A Better Start National Science Challenge has a focus on finding better ways to predict, prevent and treat obesity in children and teenagers.

The Healthier Lives National Science Challenge aims to reduce levels of diabetes and obesity in adults in line with World Health Organisation recommendations.

The Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre has been working to reduce the global burden of these diseases through research and dissemination of knowledge for the past decade.

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