Aussie govt faces fresh calls for sugar tax

Critics say Australian children are being bombarded with ads for junk food and high-sugar drinks...
Critics say Australian children are being bombarded with ads for junk food and high-sugar drinks that are cheaper than water. Photo Getty
The federal government is facing fresh calls to introduce a sugar tax as part of a plan drawn up by a coalition of health and community groups which want urgent action to tackle Australia's obesity problem.

The eight-point plan includes a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks, restrictions on TV junk food ads, the establishment of a national obesity taskforce, and mandatory health star ratings for food packaging by mid 2019.

The plan has been drawn up by a group of 34 leading health and community groups led by the Obesity Policy Coalition and includes the Cancer Council, Heart Foundation, several universities and Nutrition Australia.

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said while 63 per cent of Australian adults and 27 per cent of children were either overweight or obese, there is still no national strategy addressing the issue.

"It just doesn't make sense," she said on Tuesday.

"Without action, the costs of obesity and poor diet to society will only continue to spiral upwards.

"The policies we have set out to tackle obesity therefore aim to not only reduce morbidity and mortality, but also improve wellbeing, bring vital benefits to the economy and set Australians up for a healthier future."

The OPC estimates that the annual cost of overweight and obesity in Australia between 2011 and 2012 was about $8.6 billion in direct and indirect costs including GP services, hospital care, absenteeism and government subsidies.

Ms Martin said kids were being bombarded with ads for junk food and high-sugar drinks that are cheaper than water.

Many so called healthy foods were also being laden with sugar and saturated fat.

"Making a healthy choice has never been more difficult," she said.

Professor of epidemiology and equity in public health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, said the government could no longer afford to do nothing while increasing numbers of Australians developed life-threatening weight and diet-related health problems.

"If current trends continue, there will be approximately 1.75 million deaths in people over the age of 20 years caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer heart disease, between 2011-2050," she said.

"Obesity poses such an immense threat to Australia's physical and economic health that it needs its own, stand alone prevention strategy if progress is to be made."

Obesity action plan

* Time-based restrictions on TV junk food advertising to kids

* Set clear food reformulation targets

* Make the Health Star Rating mandatory by July 2019

* Develop a national active transport strategy

* Fund weight-related public education campaigns

* Introduce a 20% health levy on sugary drinks

* Establish a national obesity taskforce

* Develop and monitor national diet, physical activity and weight guidelines.

(Source: OPC, Tipping the Scales)

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