Taxing sugar and fat would extend life expectancy by eight days


New modelling shows taxing foods high in sugar, salt or saturated fats would help curb Australia's obesity epidemic and save billions of dollars.

Newly released modelling by researchers from the University of Melbourne has reignited debate over the so-called 'fat-tax'.

The research shows the tax would work best if it was coupled with subsidies for fruit and vegetables to lessen the burden on low socio-economic families.

Melbourne University's Centre for Health Policy claims the move would save more than $3 billion in health care costs and boost the life expectancy for Australians by roughly eight days.

“It may not sound like a lot but actually most health interventions don’t get anywhere near that sort of gain, so you have to take your gains where you get them,” co-author Professor Tony Blakely told SBS News.

Professor Blakely said the measure is not a silver bullet for combatting obesity in Australia, but it would help start a process of healthier eating.

“The food industry will reformulate food to avoid taxes, that's perhaps where the biggest gains are,” he said.

"Critics often say taxes on unhealthy food make life tougher for low socio-economic households, but we've demonstrated that the right structuring of incentives means the financial impact on households is negligible, while their health improves."

Long-term consumption of food or drinks that are high in saturated fats, sugar or salt has a proven link with serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Registered nutritionist Kate Freeman told SBS she is still surprised by how many of her clients don't include enough vegetables in their diet.

She runs ‘kitchen consultation’ classes in Canberra to teach people there are a variety of ways to prepare a nutritional meal.

“The thought of having to eat more boiled vegetables where you’re really not enjoying them is often daunting and really unappealing,” she said.

“Something needs to be done that does help people choose healthier foods.”

Scandinavian nations have long led the charge on taxing unhealthy food and drinks. Finland has had a tax on sweets, chocolate and ice cream since 2011.

Many other countries like Hungary, France, Mexico and the United Kingdom followed suit by taxing soft drinks, and India now taxes burgers, pizza and other junk food.

However, Denmark rolled out a tax on foods high in saturated fats such as butter and oil, later abolishing it because it encouraged too many people to shop across the border. It also raised the price of everyday items.

The Health Minister Greg Hunt has ruled out a 'fat tax' for now because he said there are better ways to address the issue.

“Our focus above all else is through the healthy eating programs and in addition to that through the physical activity,” he told reporters in Canberra.

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