Lack of sugar tax leaves a sour taste
All political parties need to get serious about tackling obesity and should make the introduction of a sugar tax a matter of policy priority, according to AMA President Dr Tony Bartone.
The AMA has renewed its call on the major parties to show leadership in the fight against obesity and says a sugar tax should form part of their health policies leading into the next Federal election.
The AMA’s call follows a recent announcement by the Australian Beverages Council (ABC) to reduce its sugar use by 20 per cent by 2025.
Dr Bartone described the move as “totally inadequate” and said he was “far from convinced” that the industry was serious about contributing to improving public health.
“In fact, I'm slightly sceptical of the proposal, you might say. First of all, the proposal talks about 2025. Seven years is far too long a period, far too down into the future to really be of any benefit today. We've got a problem today, it's a crisis, an epidemic. We need to do something now,” he said.
“This proposal is about reducing the sugar content across a range of products as an average, but the main products, the product line’s particular leaders, are still going to have the same content of sugar.
“So, in a 600-mil bottle of one of the leading brands of soft drink, you're going to have 14 teaspoons of sugar still in there. That's far, far too much sugar, far too much. No nutritional value in these soft drinks and, really, it does nothing to address the significant level of obesity and the amount of concern about overweight people in our community at this present time.”
Dr Bartone said one of the best ways to achieve a change in consumer behaviour is with a sugar tax.
“The evidence is in. Price signals work,” he said.
“We have seen success with excise increases on tobacco products. And we are seeing early successes with sugar taxes in Mexico and some American States.
“The AMA strongly supports the introduction of a sugar tax in Australia as part of a broad range of policies to combat obesity and improve the health of the population across all age groups.”
But political parties in Australia are slow to take up the challenge and address the obesity crisis head on. No serious proposal for a sugar tax has emerged on the Australian political landscape. The Nationals are even being vocal in opposing the idea (see story in Health on the Hill).
Dr Bartone said the AMA would campaign for a sugar tax right up until election day and beyond if necessary.
He said doctors see the direct consequences of obesity every day.
“We have an increasing number of patients, children and adults, with type 2 diabetes, and the complications can extend to heart disease, cancers, strokes, and loss of mobility,” he said.
“We also see children and adults with orthopaedic and joint problems, which are a direct consequence of the excess weight they are carrying.
“There is a broad range of associated physical and mental health problems associated with overweight and obesity.
“And we know that hospitals and other healthcare organisations are spending precious and limited resources on specialised equipment to care for the increasing number of obese people.
“Revenue from the sugar tax can be hypothecated to the health sector, including investment in measures that support healthy eating and subsidies for healthier foods.
“The sugar tax makes sense.”
- 63.4 per cent of Australian adults are either overweight or obese, and 27.4 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 years are either overweight or obese.
- Mexico’s 10 per cent tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) has been in place since 2014. Data shows that the tax has resulted in a decrease in purchasing, by 5.5 per cent in 2014 and 9.7 per cent in 2015 (an average reduction of 7.6 per cent over the two years). There was also a 2.1 per cent increase in the quantity of untaxed beverages purchased.
- The tax introduced in Hungary (which applied to food high in sugar, fat and caffeine) resulted in product reformulation, and a decrease in the sale of taxed foods by 25 per cent, and a decrease in consumption by 25-35 per cent, when compared to the previous year.
- There is a tax on SSBs in place in several US jurisdictions, including the one introduced in Berkeley, California, in March 2015. An evaluation of the Berkeley tax showed that consumption of SSBs had dropped by 21 per cent, and increased by 4 per cent in comparison neighbourhoods without such a tax.
Published: 13 Jul 2018