Australians want better labels on 'unhealthy' foods, but not sin taxes

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

There was limited support for taxes on 'unhealthy' products. ©iStock
There was limited support for taxes on 'unhealthy' products. ©iStock
Almost 80% of Australians want clearer labels on unhealthy foods, but far fewer support taxation as a tool to deter consumption.

In a survey of 2,474 adults in New South Wales, Cancer Council NSW researchers found that 86% of people supported a colour-coded food labelling system, 79% supported displaying health warning labels on unhealthy food, and 73% supported a ban on unhealthy food advertising that targets children.

The research, in the latest edition of the journal Public Health Research & Practice​, also found that the most unpopular policy was a tax on unhealthy foods, with only 42% of people supporting such a move.

"Restrictions on food marketing to children should remain a priority, given the high public acceptance and evidence of effectiveness,"​ said study co-author Clare Hughes, who is the Nutrition Programme Manager at Cancer Council NSW.

"It is also important to strengthen food labelling laws to ensure only healthy foods can carry claims about nutrition content. This would boost confidence in food labelling and better support consumers to make healthier food choices."

Cancer cost

The study aimed to identify whether there is a relationship between support for food policy initiatives and awareness of the link between obesity-related lifestyle risk factors and cancer.

Recent estimates in Australia show that more than 3,900 cancer cases (3.4% of all cancers) diagnosed in 2010 could be attributed to overweight or obesity, 7,089 (6.1%) to inadequate diet and 1,814 (1.6%) to inadequate physical activity.

The study found support for food policy initiatives was higher among those who were aware of the link between cancer and obesity-related lifestyle factors than among those who were unaware of this link.

It concluded: "Our finding that people who know about the links between obesity and cancer are more supportive of evidence-based policies than those who are not aware of the obesity-related cancer risk factors is useful to inform public information and framing messaging for advocacy efforts.

"This has good synergy for future social marketing campaigns: increasing awareness of the link between lifestyle factors and cancer increases community support for food policy initiatives that positively influence the food environment, which, in turn, supports the population to maintain a healthy weight.

"Public health and cancer organisations advocating for obesity prevention policy interventions need to ensure that they are also effectively communicating the increasing evidence of the link between obesity and cancer as a reason for prioritising such interventions."

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