Sugar coated: Australian’s are increasingly getting out of shape and putting on weight.
The truth: two out of three Australian’s are overweight or obese.
Sugar coated: We should be doing something to help people eat healthier and make better choices.
The truth: Australia is facing an obesity crisis and the Federal Government need to take leadership on this issue.
There are so many different initiatives that could be undertaken to tackle the rising obesity crisis that we’re dealing with in Australia. But when a landmark study recommends taxing junk food, especially sugary drinks, to make them more expensive, and reducing advertising and marketing of those products to children as one of the most effective ways, then maybe we need to listen?
Unfortunately, the Federal Government is doing the exact opposite, with the Minister for Health Greg Hunt bluntly saying, “We do not support a new tax on sugar to address this issue”. When you need to keep big corporates on side I understand it can be difficult to put the health of the nation at the forefront.
Hunt went on to say, “Our Health Star Rating system helps people to make healthier choices when choosing packaged foods at the supermarket and encourages the food industry to reformulate their products to be healthier”. However there are some significant limitations to the Health Star Rating system.
For example, the system is voluntary, which means that its up to the food manufacturers as to whether or not the product will display the health stars. Plus, many of the items that we’re meant to be eating (think fresh fruit and vegetables) are not packaged, so they don’t display the health stars. When their main slogan is “the more stars the better” it kind of makes this misleading.
The calculation of the stars is also somewhat unclear, with full-cream unsweetened natural yoghurts scoring lower than sugary fruit yoghurts. Similarly, fruit juices score four or five stars despite being very high in sugar because they receive positive points for fruit content.
In a context where consumers are extremely price sensitive due to the rising cost of living, would it not make more sense to incentivise healthy behaviours and penalise the unhealthy? The freedom of choice will forever remain, however the choice to eat healthier is now also economically the easier option.
I believe with any behavioural change strategies, we need to work on increasing both motivation while simultaneously removing barriers. In the case of eating healthy, we’re using the concept of money as a mechanism for changing behaviour.
Putting a sugar tax on foods that are clearly not healthy for us not only sends a strong signal educationally that ‘this food is not healthy’ but also communicates on a consumer level that ‘this is no longer the economically viable choice’. The World Health Organisation has urged all countries to implement a sugar tax, and found that such a tax of 20% results in a drop in sales and consumption of sugary drinks.
The best part is, it’s not like Australia would be pioneering the way or going down a completely unknown path. In fact, we’re quite far behind with countries like Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, the UK and some US states bringing in a sugar tax.
The leader of this latest study at the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University, Dr Gary Sacks, said “It can’t be that we are all inadequate human beings… the problem is we live in an environment where junk food is everywhere, it’s heavily marketed and in a lot of cases, it’s really cheap.”
He’s totally on the mark with this one – it’s not that we are all unable to avoid temptation and consciously seek out the ‘bad stuff’; it’s literally thrown in our faces on a daily basis. Think about the amount of money spent on advertising for chips, chocolate and lollies versus the amount spent on sprucing fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s no wonder that when we’re hungry we reach for a chocolate bar.
So is taxing the right answer? The evidence in support seems to point towards a YES. So what can you do about it to get the ball rolling? Start the conversation. Write on Facebook to your local MP. Share the story on your own social media. Do your own research into what has happened in other countries when they have brought in a sugar tax. Educate yourself and others. You can do something and together we can bring about change.