Australia’s obesity statistics are well documented. We know the majority of us are overweight, that 27.9 per cent are obese and more than one quarter of our kids heavier than they ought to be.
Well, now a coalition of 34 major Australian health organisations says that unless we curb those unsettling numbers we’ll be faced with another: 1.75 million deaths in people over the age of 20 caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity by the year 2050.
In an effort to tackle this “epidemic of weight-related illness”, the group (led by the Obesity Policy Coalition and Global Obesity Centre, and featuring Cancer Council Australia and Heart Foundation) today released ‘Tipping the Scales‘, an eight-part action plan they they are urging the Federal Government to adopt.
Among their suggestions: restrictions on junk food TV advertising, a mandatory health-star-rating system and increased funding for eduction.
But none has received as much attention as the so-called ‘sugar tax’.
What is a sugar tax?
Under the group’s recommendations, this would be a levy imposed by the Federal Government that would increase the price of sugary drinks by 20 per cent, with revenue directed toward a national obesity prevention strategy and support of healthy lifestyles.
According to the OBC, “the levy could apply to all non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar, such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and cordials, potentially excluding 100 per cent fruit juices and milk-based drinks.”
This would mean that your $2.00 can of Cola, for example, would cost you an extra 40c.
Similar taxes exist in several other countries. The UK’s, for example, will come into effect next year and will be applied to manufacturers, while Mexico’s 10 per cent levy achieved a 6.3 per cent reduction in soft drink consumption in its first year.
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Why sugary drinks?
In short, they’re bad for us and we’re drinking too much.
While the World Health Organisation recommends no more than 12 teaspoons of ‘free’ (that is, added or refined) sugar per day, ABS data from 2011-2012 shows that Australians consumed an average of 14 teaspoons, 52 per cent of which came from sugary drinks.
Still, these beverages are heavily advertised and often cost less than a bottle of water.
A tax, the group argues, could reduce consumption by as much as 12.6 per cent, in turn “resulting in clear health benefits and contributing to the reduction of chronic disease in Australia.”
Will the Government impose a sugar tax?
Despite the extra revenue it would bring (an estimated $400m per year, according to the Obesity Policy Coalition) neither side of government is keen to back the idea.
“I think we have enough taxes and there are enough imposts on us all when we go to the supermarket and we go shopping,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Channel Nine.
The sentiment was echoed by opposition leader Bill Shorten. While he supported the idea of restricting junk food advertising in prime time, he told reporters he doesn’t think “that another tax is going to be what Australians need or want at this stage.”
Professor of Epidemiology and Equity in Public Health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, said the time has come for parliament to stop sitting back and waiting for someone else to fix the obesity problem.
“Obesity poses such an immense threat to Australia’s physical and economic health that it needs its own, standalone prevention strategy if progress is to be made,” she said in a statement. “There are policies which have been proven to work in other parts of the world and have the potential to work here, but they need to be implemented as part of a comprehensive approach by governments. And they need to be implemented now.”
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