Friday, January 05, 2018

Let's make 2018 the year for a sugar tax in Australia

The health headlines in the new year once again commenced with commentary about a sugar tax. Excessive consumption of sugar is one of the greatest preventable factors contributing to poor health in Australia. It is linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and poor oral health. It is addictive, disproportionately impacts on socially disadvantaged populations, and is often hidden in food products under 40+ different names for sugar. Further, Australians can't tell how much added sugar they are consuming as this is not declared on food packaging.

Calls for a sugar tax in Australia have gained momentum over the last two years.

The ADA supports the introduction of a sugar tax and recently backed the Obesity Coalition's 2017 Tipping the Scales report that called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks as an effective tool for reducing consumption and tackling high rates of overweight and obesity.

Hungary’s sugar tax came into effect in September 2011. Since then, 22 per cent of people have dropped their energy drink consumption and 19 per cent say they have reduced their intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

Research also shows Mexico’s sugar tax, which included a media campaign linking sugary beverages to diabetes and a 1 peso per litre ‘soda tax’, has worked. Sugar taxes have now been introduced in France, Chile, a growing number of US cities, and in South Africa in April, with the UK and Ireland planning to put a duty on soft drinks in 2018.

Modelling by University of Melbourne’s Centre for Health Policy researchers, released this year, shows taxing foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats, as well as subsidising fruit and vegetables, could save $3.4 billion in healthcare costs.

Reducing the amount of sugar in foods

As well as a sugar tax, reducing the amount of sugar in foods and beverages would save Australian's teeth and dramatically improve overall health and wellbeing.

In 2015-16, 16,435 Victorians, including more than 6,000 children experienced potentially preventable hospitalisation due to dental conditions. Of these children, 1,796 were aged 0-4 years. Statistics for the same time period show that 1 in 3 children aged 5-6 years in Australia have dental decay and 2 in 5 children aged 12-14 years have decay in their adult teeth.

A report by The George Institute for Global Health, published in Nutrients magazine, estimates that more than 150,000 Australian deaths could be prevented if the energy content of sugary drinks was cut by around a third. The report found that the immediate impact on overall health would be profound with thousands living healthier lives, free of the symptoms of obesity and tooth decay, and at much reduced risks of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

Added sugar labelling

Health advocates and consumer groups have been calling for added sugar labelling to be legislated to make it easier for consumers to understand how much added sugar is in food and drinks. A recent Choice Australia/ADA campaign resulted in over 20,000 consumers contacting their Health Minister to lobby for this. However on November 24, much to the disappointment of the ADA and Australia's leading health organisations, Health Ministers across Australia delayed taking action on added sugar labelling.

The WHO reviewed the evidence that links added sugar consumption to a range of health problems, including tooth decay, overweight and obesity and type II diabetes, and made recommendations to reduce added or free sugar consumption to less than 12 teaspoons per day, and ideally less than 6 teaspoons. Australians are currently consuming on average 14 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and teenagers are consuming 22 teaspoons on average per day.

Obesity Coalition
Canberra Times