Health professionals and media renew calls for Australian sugar tax

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

Health professionals and the media have been vocal in their calls for a sugar tax, which they say is "long overdue". ©GettyImages
Health professionals and the media have been vocal in their calls for a sugar tax, which they say is "long overdue". ©GettyImages
Just over three months since Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quashed calls for a tax on sweetened beverages, the media as well as a coalition of health professionals have relit the torch on the debate.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a position paper stating: “Improving the nutrition and eating habits of Australians must become a priority for all levels of government.”

The statement said that the government should “consider the full complement of measures available to them to support improved nutrition”​. This would include increasing nutrition education and food literacy programmes, mandatory food fortification, price signals to influence consumption and restrictions on food and beverage advertising to children.

“Children are easily influenced, and this marketing — which takes place across all media platforms, from radio and television to online, social media, and apps — undermines healthy food education and makes eating junk food seem normal,”​ said AMA president, Dr Michael Gannon.

“Advertising and marketing unhealthy food and drink to children should be prohibited altogether, and the loophole that allows children to be exposed to junk food and alcohol advertising during coverage of sporting events must be closed,”​ he stated.

Not enough being done

Furthermore the AMA said that all levels of government should be canvassing opportunities to engage with food producers and retailers to further support improved nutrition.

While the Health Star Rating (HSR) proves that representatives from the health sector, the food industry and governments can work together to support healthier food choices, its view is that these efforts cannot stop at food labelling.

“There is strong agreement among health bodies that prohibiting food advertising to children, and a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, are the required next steps,” ​said the conclusion specifically directed at the government.

“Ideally, the food industry should be part of the process of refining and implementing these interventions, but progress should not be slowed by their unwillingness,”​ it states.

Media strongly backs calls

The AMA and other members of the Obesity Policy Coalition are not the only ones fanning the flames.

A growing number of opinion columns and editorials across the media have lent their voices to back calls for a sugar tax — including The Sydney Morning Herald​, The Canberra Times​ and Huffington Post Australia​.

The editorial in the Herald stated: “Excessive consumption of added sugar is one of the greatest preventable threats to our nation's health. It is linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dental disease and even, some studies suggest, depression. It is addictive, it disproportionately impacts on the poor, and it is often hidden.”

It called the proposed sugar tax “long overdue”.

Inconsequential diatribe?

Nonetheless, it appears that Australia’s coalition government is not likely to take heed in the near future. Even for the opposition, only The Greens are willing to support a sugar tax. Turnbull and the federal government’s “No” in September may end up irrevocable.

Still, the Obesity Policy Coalition had warned that if the government doesn't act, 1.75 million Australians will die prematurely from being obese or overweight in the next 30 years. They argue that an intervention of a 20% tax would reduce the number of new cases of Type 2 diabetes by 770 a year, heart disease by 240 a year and stroke by 70 a year.

Apart from the sugar tax, the AMA statement says: “Governments must work with the food industry to improve the ability for people to distinguish between naturally-occurring and added sugars. This may be done with refinements of the HSR system.”

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