Experts call for sugar tax to help reduce obesity

A sugar tax would be the most effective way to reduce childhood obesity levels, according to experts.

The UK will charge a sugar tax on soft drinks from 2018 and Australian experts are calling for a similar tax to be introduced in Australia.

National Heart Foundation senior political advisor Andrea Western said a sugary drinks tax should be part of a comprehensive government-led anti-obesity strategy.

“In this respect, it would allow complementary measures, and provide opportunities for education and revenue to be redirected to other public health programs” she said.

The proposed tax would apply to drinks with sugar levels above 5g per 100ml, and a higher tax on drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Health Survey 2014/15 revealed about one in four children aged between five and 17 were overweight or obese.

WA Primary Principals’ Association president Stephen Breen said a sugar tax was needed.

“The revenue received from the sugar tax would need to go directly into programs educating and promoting health lifestyles for our children,” he said.

Mr Breen also said big food corporations had not been taking the issue seriously.

“Food companies have overstepped the mark when it comes to sugar in cool drinks, confectioneries and general food items targeted at children,” he said.

“There should be restrictions on the amount sugar that’s placed in these foods and drinks.

“If companies won’t do it voluntarily then a sugar tax should be applied.”

Mr Breen also said big food corporations made it difficult to educate primary school children about the harm sugar could do.

“Large food corporations spend millions of dollars advertising and sponsoring foods and drinks, and this counters much of the education in schools,” he said.

“Companies target their products towards kids, where we constantly see fast food outlets promoting their meals with toys and games.

“This keeps kids coming back, it’s fun and stimulating, but potentially detrimental to their health.”

Cancer Council nutrition and physical activity manager Steve Pratt said it was worrying to see obesity levels increasing.

“Approximately three to five per cent of cancers in Australia are attributed to overweight and obesity,” he said.

Mr Pratt said education was important, but other measures were necessary.

“A sugar tax, and reducing advertising of unhealthy foods would have more impact than simply encouraging people to take more responsibility for their food choices,” he said.

Ms Western said people from lower socio-economic groups were at greater risk of diet-related health conditions, and would benefit most from a sugary drinks tax.

“They consume greater volumes of sugary drinks than those with higher incomes,” she said.

“The higher the level of education, income or occupation, the lower the level of obesity.

“It would work as an equalising population health policy that would assist in the reduction of consumption and reduce associated disease.”

A Study by The University of Queensland  and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention found more than 1600 lives could be saved during the next 25 years if a sugar tax was introduced in Australia.