Treatable disease: Researchers struggling to convince politicians merits of sugar tax


Nutrition researchers believe a tax on junk food, including on sugary drinks, could help curb Australia's obesity epidemic.

Researchers believe a sugar tax is part of the answer to Australia's obesity epidemic, but Australian politicians mostly disagree.

Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, Jane Martin, said a staggeringly low percentage of Australians are avoiding junk food and eating well.

"Only 7 per cent of Australians are eating what would be considered a healthy diet."      

Dr Gary Sacks from Deakin University also believes the fight against obesity should not just rest with individuals.

"As a society this is a major issue and we all need to take action so that's individuals, organisations and governments need to take some responsibility here," he said.

Both sides of politics oppose a sugar tax but Opposition leader Bill Shorten is open to tighter restrictions on junk food advertising at certain times.

"At peak periods when little eyeballs are on the TV and getting all the wrong messages about food and healthy eating," he said. 

The Australian Food and Grocery Council said there is no evidence a sugar tax would have any impact on obesity rates.

Chief Executive Gary Dawson said it also opposes bringing in restrictions on advertising, saying food companies have voluntarily elected not to advertise what it calls 'treats' during children's viewing hours.

"When children are sitting unsupervised by parents, there is an argument to restrict and remove the advertising of treats.

"But in viewing times when typically most of the audience are adults, when children typically are watching programs with their parents, that's a different environment, a different viewing environment.

"So look, food companies themselves have removed the advertising of treats that's targeted at children, that's in children's television programs and that's happened over the last seven or eight years."
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the government should consider a sugar tax and should stop listening to companies such as Coca Cola.

"And start listening to the doctors, scientists and experts who are telling us a small tax on sugar sweetened drinks would reduce obesity and ensure our kids lead longer and healthier lives," he said.     

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