Call for Government to take action on obesity

Thirty-four leading community, public health, medical and academic groups have today united for the first time to call for urgent Federal Government action to address Australia’s serious obesity problem.

In the ground-breaking new action plan, Tipping the Scales, the agencies identify eight clear, practical, evidence-based actions the Australian Federal Government must take to reduce the enormous strain excess weight and poor diets are having on the nation’s physical and economic health.

Led by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) and Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), Tipping the Scales draws on national and international recommendations to highlight where action is required.

Areas nominate include time-based restrictions on TV junk food advertising to kids, the introduction of a 20% health levy on sugary drinks, and establishing a national obesity taskforce.

OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said the eight definitive policy actions in Tipping the Scales addressed the elements of Australia’s environment which set individuals and families up for unhealthy lifestyles, rather than just focusing on treating the poor health outcomes associated with obesity.

“Sixty-three per cent of Australian adults and 27 per cent of our children are overweight or obese. This is not surprising when you look at our environment – our kids are bombarded with advertising for junk food, high-sugar drinks are cheaper than water, and sugar and saturated fat are hiding in so-called ‘healthy’ foods. Making a healthy choice has never been more difficult,” Martin said.

Professor of Epidemiology and Equity in Public Health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, said the 34 groups behind the report were refusing to let governments simply sit back and watch as growing numbers of Australians developed life-threatening weight and diet-related health problems.

“For too long we have been sitting and waiting for obesity to somehow fix itself. In the obesogenic environment in which we live, this is not going to happen. In fact, 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 2011-20501,” Professor Peeters said.

Sugary drinks increase diabetes risk regardless of obesity – research

An international study led by ANU has found that as sugary drinks consumption increased the risk of type 2 diabetes also increased, independently of obesity and weight gain.

The study, which used a new statistical technique called mediation analysis, found thousands of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented every year in Thailand if people stopped drinking sugary drinks every day.

The results come from the Thai Cohort Study from 2005 to 2013, which involved a nation-wide sample of nearly 40,000 adults.

Lead author Keren Papier from ANU said type 2 diabetes killed millions of people globally every year and evidence from around the world showed that a reduction in sugary drink consumption would reduce rates of type 2 diabetes.

“A reduction in sugary drink consumption is likely reduce rates of diabetes in Australia,” said Ms Papier, a PhD candidate from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

“Several countries including Mexico, the United States, France and Chile have already started acting on sugary drinks by imposing or committing to a sugar tax.

“Findings from the United States and Mexico show that applying the tax has led to a 17 and 21 per cent decrease respectively in the purchase of taxed beverages among low-income households.”

The tax has raised over $US2.6 billion in Mexico.

“Sugary drinks are an ideal target for public health interventions to help control the type 2 diabetes epidemic since they have no nutritional value and do not protect against disease,” Ms Papier said.

“Over 4,000 cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented annually in the Thai population if people avoided drinking sugary drinks daily. Thai women, who are at double the risk of type 2 diabetes from drinking sugary drinks, would be the main beneficiaries.”

Between 1983 and 2009, the average Thai person’s sugar intake jumped from 13kg to 31kg in a year.

Ms Papier said research in several rich countries had shown that women globally were at higher risk of type 2 diabetes from drinking soft drinks.

“Women are more susceptible because they generally have lower muscle mass and energy needs compared with men,” she said.

ANU conducted the study with QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University in Thailand.

It is part of a larger study of the health-risk transition to chronic disease underway in middle-income countries and the information from Thailand is leading to a better understanding of multi-level forces driving the process worldwide.

The research is published in Nutrition & Diabetes.

Welfare Group calls for taxes on sugary drinks, alcohol

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has called on the Government to implement a raft of measures, including taxes on alcohol and sugary drinks, as an alternative to budget cuts.

“After two years of chasing the ill-conceived 2014 Budget cuts, it’s time the Government recast its Budget strategy and moved on from the one-sided focus on spending cuts, particularly in social security,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“ACOSS proposes a suite of measures that will save $9.4 billion by 2018-19 in addition to putting $4 billion into critical social infrastructure to reduce poverty and inequality in Australia.

“Australia is a low-spending country on social security, spending just 9% of GDP on welfare compared with the OECD average of 12.4%. We are also the sixth lowest taxing country of 34 OECD countries.”

The welfare group says the revenue accrued from the changes should be used to reform these welfare payments.

Specifically, ACOSS wants a ‘sugar tax’ on sweetened drinks that it says would save $500m in 2018-19. In addition, the organisation wants the Government to abolish the Wine Equalisation Tax and WET Rebate, and tax wine and ciders at (two) uniform rates. This, it says, would save $2,300m in 2018-19.

Goldie said that, apart from raising revenue, these measures “should improve public health and help ease future pressures on the health care system”.

Further measures proposed by ACOSS include changes to capital gains tax, deductions to negative gearing, removal of the private health insurance rebate, abolishing the extended Medicare safety net, and superannuation contribution reforms.

The ten things Australia needs to do to improve health

In Australia, one in every two people has a chronic disease. These diseases, such as cancer, mental illness and heart disease, reduce quality of life and can lead to premature death. Younger generations are increasingly at risk.

Crucially, one-third of the disease burden could be prevented and chronic diseases often share the same risk factors.

A collaboration of Australia’s leading scientists, clinicians and health organisations has produced health targets for Australia’s population to reach by the year 2025.

These are in line with the World Health Organisation’s agenda for a 25% global reduction in premature deaths from chronic diseases, endorsed by all member states including Australia.

Today the collaboration is announcing its top ten priority policy actions in response to a recent health report card that identifies challenges to meeting the targets. The actions will drive down risk factors and help create a healthier Australia.

1. Drink fewer sugary drinks

One in two adults and three out of four children and young people consume too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the main source of sugar in the Australian diet and while many other factors influence health, these drinks are directly linked to weight gain and the risk of developing diabetes.

Putting a 20% tax on sugary drinks could save lives and prevent heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. The tax would also generate A$400 million each year that could be spent on much needed health programs.

2. Stop unhealthy food marketing aimed at kids

Almost 40% of children and young people’s energy comes from junk food. Children are very responsive to marketing and it is no coincidence almost two-thirds of food marketing during popular viewing times are unhealthy products.

Restricting food marketing aimed at children is an effective way to significantly reduce junk food consumption and Australians want action in this area. Government-led regulation is needed to drive this change.

3. Keep up the smoking-reduction campaigns

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, although the trends are positive.

Campaigns that highlight the dangers of smoking reduce the number of young people who start smoking, increase the number of people who attempt to quit and support former smokers to remain tobacco free.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia.

4. Help everyone quit

About 40% of Aboriginal people and 24% of people with a mental illness smoke.

To support attempts to quit, compliance with smoke-free legislation across all work and public places is vital. Media campaigns need to continue to reach broad audiences. GPs and other local health services that serve disadvantaged communities should include smoking cessation in routine care.

5. Get active in the streets

More than 90% of Australian young people are not meeting guidelines for sufficient physical activity – the 2025 target is to reduce this by at least 10%.

Active travel to and from school programs will reach 3.7 million of Australia’s children and young people. This can only occur in conjunction with safe paths and urban environments that are designed in line with the latest evidence to get everyone moving.

6. Tax alcohol responsibly

The Henry Review concluded that health and social harms have not been adequately considered in current alcohol taxation. A 10% increase on the current excise, and the consistent application of volume-based taxation, are the 2017 priority actions.

Fortunately, the trends suggest most people are drinking more responsibly. However approximately 5,500 deaths and 157,000 hospital admissions occur as a consequence of alcohol each year.

7. Use work as medicine

People with a mental illness are over-represented in national unemployment statistics. The 2025 target is to halve the employment gap.

Unemployment and the associated financial duress exerts a significant toll on the health of people with a mental illness, and costs an estimated A$2.5 billion in lost productivity each year.

Supported vocational programs have 20 years of evidence showing their effectiveness. Scaling up and better integrating these programs is an urgent priority, along with suicide prevention and broader efforts.

8. Cut down on salt

Most Australian adults consume in excess of the recommended maximum salt intake of 5 grams daily. This contributes to a high prevalence of elevated blood pressure among adults (23%), which is a major risk factor for heart diseases.

Around 75% of Australian’s salt intake comes from processed foods. Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025, via food reformulation, could save 3,500 lives a year through reductions in heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025 could save 3,500 lives a year.

9. Promote heart health

Heart disease is Australia’s single largest cause of death, and yet an estimated 970,000 adults at high risk of a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) are not receiving appropriate treatment to reduce risk factors such as combined blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications. Under-treatment can be exacerbated by people’s lack of awareness about their own risk factors.

National heart risk assessment programs, along with care planning for high-risk individuals, offer a cost-effective solution.

10. Measure what matters

A comprehensive Australian Health Survey must be a permanent and routine survey every five years, so Australia knows how we are tracking on chronic disease.

All of these policies are effective, affordable and feasible opportunities to prevent, rather than treat, Australia’s biggest killer diseases.

Top Image:

The Conversation

Rebecca Lindberg, Research Coordinator, Victoria University; Kevin Peter Mc Namara, Senior Research Fellow in Health Services Research, Deakin University, and Sharleen O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Health leaders call for 20% sugar tax

Public health advocates meeting in Parliament House will call for a 20 per cent levy on sugar sweetened beverages as part of a broader list of 10 health priorities for Australia.

Professor Tom Calma AO, Chancellor of the University of Canberra will launch Getting Australia’s Health on Track – a policy report for a healthier Australia.

The event is hosted by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) together with the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA). Also speaking are Ministers Gillespie, King and Senator Di Natale.

Getting Australia’s Health on Track was developed by a national collaboration of 70 leading chronic disease experts and organisations who have also worked together on the related Australia’s Health Tracker. Australia’s Health Tracker, a national chronic disease report card was launched in July this year. Recently, the second phase of this work Australia’s Health Tracker by Area launched, providing localised data and reports on chronic diseases.

Now this work enters its third phase – Getting Australia’s Health on Track – which outlines a suite of policies that will help address the problems revealed in the Tracker data sets.

“Currently, less than 1.5 per cent of spending is dedicated to prevention. One in two Australians are now living with a chronic disease; we must take preventative actions now for a healthier future,” commented Rosemary Calder, Director AHPC.

“These 10 priority policy actions are more than health policies and offer significant social and economic benefits for Australia. Australia’s Health Tracker reveals some of the nation’s greatest health challenges – now here is a list of some of the best solutions.”

Apart from the sugar tax, the priority policy actions are:

HEALTHIER DIETS: Protect children and young people from unhealthy food and beverage TV marketing;

REDUCE SMOKING: Enhance media campaigns to reduce smoking;

REDUCE SMOKING: Reduce health and mortality disparities in disadvantaged populations caused by smoking;

INCREASE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Invest in active travel initiatives to and from school to kickstart a national physical activity plan;

REDUCE HARM FROM ALCOHOL: Consistent volumetric tax on alcohol products and increase current tax rate;

IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH: Scale up supported vocational programs for people with a mental illness;

REDUCE BIOMEDICAL RISK: Reduce salt content in processed foods and meals to decrease the risks of high blood pressure;

REDUCE BIOMEDICAL RISK: Scale up primary care capacity in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular risks;

MONITOR HEALTH: Invest in comprehensive national measurement and monitoring of chronic diseases and their risk factors in the population over time.


Sugar tax idea “bonkers mad”, says Joyce

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has slammed the proposal to introduce a sugar tax and said eating less and exercise are the ways to reduce obesity.

As the SMH reports, Joyce was responding to a report presented to  Parliament which claims there should be a tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar on sugary soft drinks.

The report by the Gratton Institute estimates that community or “third party” costs of obesity were about A$5.3 billion in 2014/15; and says a tax would not only reduce obesity levels but also recoup some of these costs.

But Joyce, who is also Agriculture Minister and has warned of the devastating affect a sugar tax would have on the sugar industry of North Queensland, said the National Party would not support it.

“If you want to deal with being overweight, here’s a suggestion: stop eating so much and do a bit of exercise,” he said.

“This is one of these suggestions right from the start we always thought was bonkers mad but now it’s getting more and more momentum so we have to say, ‘We are not going to be supporting a sugar tax’.”

He said the comparison with the tobacco excise does not hold because all cigarettes are bad for you, while the occasional soft drink is not.

“I believe in the freedom of the individual … We the government are not going to moralise about what you take out of the fridge,” he said.

A sugary drinks tax could recoup some of the costs of obesity while preventing it

Obesity is a major public health problem In Australia. More than one in four adults are now classified as obese, up from one in ten in the early 1980s. And about 7% of children are obese, up from less than 2% in the 1980s.

Obesity not only affects an individual’s health and wellbeing, it imposes enormous costs on the community, through higher taxes to fund extra government spending on health and welfare and from forgone tax revenue because obese people are more likely to be unemployed.

In our new Grattan Institute report, A sugary drinks tax: recovering the community costs of obesity, we estimate community or “third party” costs of obesity were about A$5.3 billion in 2014/15.

We propose the government put a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to recoup some of the third-party costs of obesity and reduce obesity rates. Such a tax would ensure the producers and consumers of those drinks start paying closer to the full costs of this consumption – including costs that to date have been passed on to other taxpayers. There is the added benefit of raising revenue that could be spent on obesity-prevention programs.

Prevalence of obesity in Australia.
Author provided

The scope of our proposed tax is on non-alcoholic, water-based beverages with added sugar. This includes soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters, fruit drinks, energy drinks, flavoured waters and iced teas.

While a sugary drinks tax is not a “silver bullet” solution to the obesity epidemic (that requires numerous policies and behaviour changes at an individual and population-wide level), it would help.

Why focus on sugary drinks?

Sugar-sweetened beverages are high in sugar and most contain no valuable nutrients, unlike some other processed foods such as chocolate. Most Australians, especially younger people, consume too much sugar already.

People often drink excessive amounts of sugary drinks because the body does not send appropriate “full” signals from calories consumed in liquid form. Sugar-sweetened beverages can induce hunger, and soft drink consumption at a young age can create a life-long preference for sweet foods and drinks.

We estimate, based on US evidence, about 10% of Australia’s obesity problem is due to these sugar-filled drinks.

Many countries have implemented or announced the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax including the United Kingdom, France, South Africa and parts of the United States. The overseas experience is tax reduces consumption of sugary drinks, with people mainly switching to water or diet/low-sugar alternatives.

There is strong public support in Australia for a sugar-sweetened beverages tax if the funds raised are put towards obesity prevention programs, such as making healthier food cheaper. Public health authorities, including the World Health Organisation and the Australian Medical Association, as well as advocates such as the Obesity Policy Coalition, support the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax.

What the tax would look like

We advocate taxing the sugar contained within sugar-sweetened beverages, rather than levying a tax based on the price of these drinks, because: a sugar content tax encourages manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their drinks, it encourages consumers to buy drinks with less sugar, each gram of sugar is taxed consistently, and it deters bulk buying.

The tax should be levied on manufacturers or importers of sugar-sweetened beverages, and overseas evidence suggests it will be passed on in full to consumers.

We estimate a tax of A$0.40 per 100 grams of sugar in sugary drinks, about A$0.80 for a two-litre bottle of soft drink, will raise about A$400-$500 million per year. This will reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by about 15%, or about 10 litres per person on average. Recent Australian modelling suggests a tax could reduce obesity prevalence by about 2%.

Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Low-income earners consume more sugar-sweetened beverages than the rest of the population, so they will on average pay slightly more tax. But the tax burden per person is small – and consumers can also easily avoid the tax by switching to drinks such as water or artificially sweetened beverages.

People on low incomes are generally more responsive to price rises and are therefore more likely to switch to non-taxed (and healthier) beverages, so the tax may be less regressive than predicted. Although a sugar-sweetened beverages tax may be regressive in monetary terms, the greatest health benefits will flow through to low-income people due to their greater reduction in consumption and higher current rates of obesity.

The revenue could also be spent on obesity programs that benefit the disadvantaged, reducing the regressivity of the tax.

While the beverage and sugar industries are strongly opposed to any tax on sugar, their concerns are overblown. Most of the artificially sweetened drinks and waters, which will not be subject to the tax, are owned by the major beverage companies.

A sugar-sweetened beverages tax will reduce domestic demand for Australian sugar by around 50,000 tonnes, which is only about 1% of all the sugar produced in Australia. And while there may be some transition costs, this sugar could instead be sold overseas (as 80% of Australia’s sugar production already is).

A tax on sugary drinks is a public health reform whose time has come.

The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute and Trent Wiltshire, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Joyce dismisses sugar tax proposal

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has dismissed a Liberal backbencher’s suggestion that a sugar tax should be considered as a means to tackle child obesity.

As the Australian reports, on Monday Victorian MP Russell Broadbent told Parliament a 20 per cent tax on all manufacturers and importers of soft drinks would provide the Government with much needed funds to fight the increased incidence of obesity among children.

However, Joyce (pictured) ruled the proposal of hand, saying such a move would devastate the sugar industry.

“We believe that the sugar industry is an incredibly strong industry, especially for the development of north Queensland,” he said

“I’m always reticent to believe that a tax is a cure for anything.”

As the AFR reports, Nationals MP for Capricornia in North Queensland Michelle Landry, agreed with Joyce and claimed a sugar tax would leave many workers from her electorate, which has two sugar mills, out of work.

However, Landry added that food makers could be put under more scrutiny regarding the amount of sugar they use.

“These manufacturers when they make food they do put a lot of sugar into things, and perhaps they should start being more careful about what ingredients they’ll put into things because there’s a lot of sugar,” she said.



Does Australia need a sugar tax?

The British Government’s recent decision to combat the rising incidence of obesity in the UK by introducing a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks has stimulated debate about whether a similar tax should be introduced in Australia. Hartley Henderson investigates.

But is a tax an appropriate way to address the issue of overweight and obesity in Australia? Or is more education and better labelling needed, and should more be done by the beverage industry sector to reduce the amount of sugar added to non-alcoholic beverages?

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) points out that in Australia two thirds of adults and one quarter of children are overweight or obese, that sugary drinks are a major contributor to this, and that they are a risk factor for overweight and obesity, which can increase the risk of many common diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

According to the OPC’s Executive Manager, Jane Martin, the introduction of a levy of 20 percent on the retail price of sugary drinks is recommended by the World Health Organisation as a key policy to address overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

“Added sugar is a key contributor to overweight and obesity and sugary drinks are by far the largest contributor of added sugar in Australian diets,” she told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“Increasing the price of sugary drinks in Australia has the potential to reduce consumption by around 12 percent, putting downward pressure on weight gain and thereby preventing disease and premature death.

“While education around a healthy diet is important, a single intervention in isolation cannot be expected to have a substantial effect on overweight and obesity rates. That is why it is important to have a national healthy weight strategy which includes a range of elements to support healthy eating.

“This should align with recommendations from the World Health Organisation including a tax on sugary drinks, tough restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food to children, making healthier food available in settings such as hospitals, as well as supporting the widespread adoption of clear food and drink labelling to support healthier choices. This will work to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for Australians.”

Martin believes the nutrition information panel on sugary drinks can be difficult for people to understand and interpret.

“Some health advocates have suggested that icons like teaspoons be used to more clearly represent the amount of sugar in products like soft drinks. The public is interested in how much sugar there is in food and drinks, so this could be a way of helping them better understand how much sugar packaged food and drinks contain,” she said.

“Some work has been done around reformulation and we have seen Coca Cola and Pepsi low sugar cola options and smaller can sizes. However, these tend to be more expensive per 100ml and not as widely available or heavily promoted as their high-sugar products.”

Education not enough

Dr Lennert Veerman from the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health says the current policy of informing people about healthy diets combined with diet and exercise interventions for people with overweight or obesity has failed to slim Australia down.

“It is time to step up the efforts to combat obesity, and a tax on sugary drinks is one promising way to do this. Sugary drinks add calories but no nutrients, and because they don’t contribute to satiety, those calories are ‘extra’,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“There is strong evidence that links consumption of sugary drinks to weight gain and obesity. We also know from studies in Australia and around the world that as prices go up, consumption goes down. The example of Mexico shows that this is no different for a tax on sugary drinks.

“In sum, the evidence is pretty strong that such a levy on sugary drinks would have a beneficial health impact in Australia. Our own findings suggest, for instance, that a levy that increases the price of sugary drinks by 20 percent is likely to prevent 800 new cases of diabetes per year.”

Lennert believes that educating people about a healthy diet is important but not enough, and that it is useful to draw a parallel with tobacco policy.

“Telling people to stop smoking was a start, but not very effective. What brought smoking rates down was a combination of information, help lines, smoking restrictions, advertising bans, and taxes. It looks like we are going to need a similar approach with sugary drinks to reduce obesity rates,” he said.

Tax ineffective

However, Geoff Parker CEO of the Australian Beverages Council claims a soft drinks tax will not solve the obesity problem as soft drinks contribute just 1.7 per cent of the daily intake of kilojoules for Australian adults.

“There is still no evidence globally that soft drink has any impact on obesity rates. In fact, European countries like Denmark have introduced and subsequently repealed a ‘fat tax’ within 18 months due to its blatant ineffectiveness. When introduced in Mexico, the tax only reduced dietary intake by 6 calories,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“Whilst theoretical modelling might point to taxes as a solution, in reality these punitive measures are ineffective, inefficient and unfair for a number of reasons.

“On the other hand, there certainly is a need to increase education. A 2014 national poll of 2,136 Australians found that unequivocally, people saw education programs about a healthy diet and physical activity as the most effective way to address overweight and obesity, and the most supported.

“On a scale of nine options to address the problem, respondents ranked nutritional information on labels (2nd) and vending machines (3rd) as the next most effective and supported options. Those measures to address overweight and obesity viewed as the least effective and least supported were a tax on soft drinks (8th out of 9) and restrictions by government on where parents can give their children soft drinks (9th out of 9).

“The non-alcoholic beverages industry has always been committed to ensuring that consumers are provided with high quality, safe and appropriately labelled products. Launched in 2006, the Daily Intake Guide (DIG) was introduced to ensure the energy (kilojoule) content of our beverages is clearly visible for consumers to compare products at the supermarket shelf and therefore make more informed choices.

“In 2014, the Health Star Rating system was developed by the Australian, state and territory governments in collaboration with industry, public health and consumer groups. The energy-only declaration for beverages as part of the new labelling system is slowly replacing the original DIG which the beverages industry voluntarily introduced in 2006.”

Parker said the industry is continuously developing new low and mid-level sugar-sweetened beverages to offer the consumer alternatives to regular kilojoule beverages.

“The industry is working closely with suppliers of various natural sweeteners to decrease the sugar content without altering the taste. In addition to offering more low sugar alternatives, the industry is also working on decreasing the serving sizes,” he said.

 Australian sugary drinks tax could prevent thousands of heart attacks and strokes and save 1,600 lives

Last month the United Kingdom announced a sugar tax on soft drinks. The tax will come into effect in 2018, with the funds to be used to address childhood obesity.

The move has been applauded by public health groups internationally. Unsurprisingly, the tax is strongly opposed by powerful groups in the food industry, and the announcement resulted in shares in Coca-Cola temporarily plunging.

In our new research published today in PLOS ONE, for the first time we have modelled the impact of such a tax in Australia. Over 25 years, a 20% rise in the price of soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters would save 1,600 lives. It would also prevent 4,400 heart attacks and 1,100 strokes.

Overall, the savings to the health-care system would add up to A$609 million.

It’s time for Australia to follow the UK’s lead and increase the price of sugary drinks.

What’s wrong with sugary drinks?

The evidence of the negative health impact of these products is clear, particularly with respect to dental health. Sugary drinks are also associated with increased energy intake and, in turn, weight gain and obesity.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Soft drinks are very popular, particularly among children and adolescents. So there is much to be gained, from a population health perspective, from limiting their consumption.

Many countries have already recognised the potential to improve population health by taxing sugary drinks. In recent years, Hungary, Mexico, France and Chile have all implemented a tax. The UK announcement follows a similar one by South Africa earlier in 2016.

Potential impact in Australia

Our PLOS ONE research examined the potential impact of a 20% rise in the prices of sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters on health, health-care expenditure and potential revenue.

As expected, the tax would result in people decreasing their consumption of sugary drinks. The influence of a price increase would be greatest on those who drink a lot of sugary drinks, so the greatest impact would be on younger age groups. This is an important result that is difficult to achieve through other obesity-prevention measures.

The decreases in consumption would result in small declines in the prevalence of obesity of about 0.7% in men and 0.3% in women.

When the health benefits of these changes are modelled for the whole population over their lifetime, the influence of the tax is substantial. The research estimates that it would reduce the number of new type 2 diabetes cases by approximately 800 per year.

Twenty five years after the introduction of the tax, there would be 4,400 fewer cases of heart disease and 1,100 fewer strokes. An estimated 1,600 people would be alive as a result of the tax. Overall, the savings to the health-care system would add up to A$609 million.

Even taking into account declines in consumption, the revenue collected from the tax would be more than A$400m annually. This would provide the government with a significant pool of funds to subsidise healthy food for low-income Australians, contribute to childhood obesity-prevention programs and support the promotion of healthy eating.

If other beverages with added sugar not included in this study (such as energy drinks, fruit drinks, milk-based drinks and cordials) were also taxed, the revenue and health benefits would be even greater.

High sugary drink consumption in Australia

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released revised guidelines for sugars, recommending that energy from “free sugar” (added by manufacturers, cooks or the consumer) is limited to less than 10% overall.

A recent analysis of added sugar in the Australian population found that most adults and children exceed the WHO recommendation, with sugary drinks accounting for the largest proportion of added sugar.

Just looking at supermarket retail sales, Australians bought around 1.1 billion litres of sugary drinks in 2015 at a cost of A$2.2 billion. This doesn’t include what is bought from fast-food outlets, cinemas, vending machines, hotels and convenience stores.

In many remote Indigenous communities, sugary drink consumption is particularly high. Evidence to Senate Estimates revealed that, in the last financial year, remote Indigenous communities were buying 1.1 million litres of sugary soft drink through community stores. This elicited a response from Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion who said:

I think in remote communities and very remote communities, sugar is just killing the population.

Strong public support

The sugary drinks industry, represented by the Australian Beverages Council, has widely criticised a tax on sugary drinks.

But the majority of Australians support such a tax. A survey in 2012 showed that two-thirds (65%) of respondents were in favour of a tax on soft drinks if the money was used to reduce the cost of healthy food.

This strong public support, together with the substantial health benefits and extra revenue that could be expected from the tax, should make it a highly attractive policy option for the Australian government.

At a time when the cost of preventable disease is threatening to overwhelm the health system, a tax on sugary drinks is an essential element of a comprehensive approach to address poor diets and overweight and obesity.


Gary Sacks is Senior Research Fellow, WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, Deakin University.

Jane Martin is Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition; Senior Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Lennert Veerman is Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland.


This article first appeared in the Conversation. Read the original here. 

Jamie Oliver challenges Australia to follow UK lead on sugar tax

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has praised the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks in the UK and urged other countries like Australia, Canada, and Germany to introduce similar taxes as a way to fight obesity.

Speaking in an online video, Oliver declared, “Pull your finger out Australia.”

“This is bold and brave and this will send ripples around the world as far as how these weak, pathetic governments combat the rise in childhood obesity and diet-related disease,” he added.

“It’s about time your governments got on this. I know you’re all talking about it but you’re all scared of industry.”

As reports, the UK tax will come into effect in 2018 and is expected to raise up to $1 billion. It will divide sugary drinks into two categories, those containing more than five grams of sugar per 100 millilitres and those with more than eight grams per 100 millilitres and tax them accordingly.

The tax has received widespread praise in the UK.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, said in a statement, “A sugary drinks levy is fabulous news for children and families in helping them to cut back on sugar.

“This will reduce the risks of obesity, tooth decay and other life threatening diseases. This is public health in action and a great foundation ahead of the child obesity strategy later this summer.”

However, judging by the reaction of Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, Australia is unlikely to follow the UK’s lead.

 “If you ask what’s my personal view, I’m not a fan of that, I think the more you get in and distort these types of things, the more government causes havoc across the system,” Ciobo told ABC TV.

What Might Be the Impact of an Australian Soda Tax?

What Might Be the Impact of an Australian Soda Tax?

By Howard Telford, Senior Industry Analyst with Euromonitor International

With the implementation of high profile sugar and soft drinks taxation in France in 2012, in Mexico in 2014 and Berkley, California in January of this year, the global debate concerning the purpose and efficacy of excise tax proposals on sugary beverages is inevitably moving in to other high per capita markets for carbonates.

Presently, the topic is on the agenda in Australia, a top 10 market for carbonates consumption in terms of per capita retail volume sold, and yet another country where obesity and other public health concerns are driving interest in added taxation as a potential policy solution. Fifteen years of volume and value sales data for carbonated drinks in the Australian market, published as part of Euromonitor’s non-alcoholic drinks research program, allow us to speculate on the potential impact of a soft drinks tax by considering the historic impact that price increases have had on Australian retail sales of carbonates, with a focus on cola.

As part of non-alcoholic drinks research published this January, Euromonitor International employed an inductive demand model to aid in five-year forecasting. The forecast model attempts to identify several measureable and statistically significant demand factors (including retail price) from historic data sets of the 80 markets researched. These factors are tested against historically available data for retail and on-trade beverage category sales, and then weighted to assist in building 2015-2019 country forecasts.


For Australia, the results demonstrate that a 1% increase in the retail selling price of regular, full flavour cola carbonates can be expected to yield just a 0.2% decrease in retail volume. Consequently, even a relatively substantial (and hypothetical) 7% increase in pricing in 2015 would yield only half a percentage point difference in expected declines: from a 6.5% forecasted reduction in off-trade regular, full-flavour cola volume for 2015, to a 7.0% reduction in 2015 under a soda tax scenario.

Discounting other factors, this finding suggests a weak relationship between price hikes and volume declines in Australian standard cola. However, this finding is simply based on observable data from the market and should not be oversimplified. 

In constant 2014 Australian dollars, retail unit prices for cola carbonates (including regular and low calorie cola alternatives) have fallen consistently over the review period – by 17% in total over 2000-14. There is greater uncertainty over the impact of a substantial soda tax in Australia, because there is simply no precedent for a substantial price shock in the Australian retail market. Furthermore, the introduction of such taxation would necessarily be accompanied by a high profile health and public policy debate in the media that may further impact consumer attitudes and behaviours towards the cola and wider carbonates category for reasons other than simple price.

The policy argument for excise taxation on carbonates – or similar Pigovian taxation on other products, including alcohol and tobacco – is that taxes ultimately raise prices to the consumer, driving down overall consumption of unhealthy products. The low sensitivity of standard, regular cola retail volume consumption to changes in retail price in Australia and the relative importance of other demand drivers makes it difficult to draw hard conclusions about the immediate impact such a tax might have on consumption and health.

Additionally, as a developed soft drinks market, consumers in Australia have a wealth of diet, low-calorie, zero calorie, and other non-cola alternatives to replace regular cola carbonates in their diet. In fact, Australian low-calorie carbonates have gained considerably on regular cola over the review period. Crucially, for the first time in 2014, Euromonitor’s data suggests that low-calorie cola outsold regular cola carbonates in terms of retail volume in Australia.

We know that there have been substantial declines in standard, full flavour cola (down 22% in off-trade volume over 2000-2014) and wider carbonated beverages in Australia over the recent review period. Interestingly, these declines have taken place in an environment of flat or declining prices in real terms and have been accompanied by consumer migration to low calorie cola (and non-cola carbonate) alternatives. 

Recent volume declines, independent of observable category price increases, have had an impact on sugar consumption received from soft drinks, according to Euromonitor International’s Nutrition system. In 2011, Australians received an estimated 12.62g of sugar per capita, per diem from cola carbonate beverages. By 2014, this figure has fallen to 11.83g of sugar per capita, largely as the result of a 3% decline in cola carbonates retail volume over that same period. The amount of per capita, per diem sugar from cola carbonates is expected to fall to 10.28g by 2019, independent of excise tax legislation.

It may be worth considering whether consumers in Australia – and indeed in many developed markets – are addressing well publicised concerns about the category by exiting cola for other alternatives, independent of price considerations and motivated instead by health or taste considerations.

There is a weak observable relationship in historic volume data between cola consumption and price in Australia. This is primarily because there is little precedent for substantial price increases in retail cola, supported by a strong consumer expectation for discounting that has kept the price environment in the category flat or declining. It may be the case that a substantial price shock could have a disruptive and unexpected impact on consumption. However, even in a low price, discount oriented environment for full flavour cola, volume sales have declined substantially as consumers migrate to alternative beverage categories, including low-calorie colas (led by the brands Pepsi Max and Coca-Cola Zero).

Cola consumption (regular and low-calorie) is expected to decline by 9% over 2015-19, with regular, full-flavour cola expected to decline by a staggering 25% in just five years, independent of any tax increase. Consumption of total carbonates is expected to decline by 5% in retail. 

While soda taxes will gather political and media attention as a response to public health issues across food and beverages, it is worth considering whether consumers are already responding to health concerns in their soft drinks, largely independent of price considerations. Regular standard cola carbonates in Australia have declined, to the benefit of low-calorie alternatives, with a positive impact on per capita, per diem sugar consumption.


It is therefore worth wondering whether sugar and soda taxation proposals are seeking to address a health question to which the The chart above demonstrates this point clearly. In light blue, we have an industry demand model forecast estimate built only on core economic factors that influence consumer goods: population growth, average income growth, price and habit persistence (a lagged effect of growth in the previous year). If these factors alone were used to predict growth in Australian cola, a flat performance might be expected over the next five years. However, in dark blue, the actual published Passport forecast shows a CAGR of -5.4%, in stark contrast to the -0.6% CAGR expected by the industry demand model.

The consensus forecast is revised down by 4.8 percentage points to account for unmeasured factors outside the demand model, most prominently rapidly changing attitudes to health, sugar and lifestyles. These consumer-led factors are expected to be the driver behind declines in the Australian cola category. It is therefore worth wondering whether sugar and soda taxation proposals are seeking to address a health question to which the Australian consumer has already found an answer. consumer has already found an answer.