• Chef Clayton Donovan with native bush tomatoes, lemon myrtle leaves and pepper berries. (AAP, City of Sydney)Source: AAP, City of Sydney
Clayton Donovan, a renowned Indigenous Australian chef and outspoken campaigner on the health benefits of cultural foods, has joined calls for a sugar levy in Australia, saying 'we need it to happen.'
Jodan Perry, Karina Marlow

17 Mar 2016 - 12:34 PM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2016 - 2:04 PM

The chef of Jaaning Tree, a Nambucca Heads restaurant that now operates as a pop-up venue, says a tax on sugary soft drinks would be "a small step to move forward but ... it would be a good one."

"We need it to happen," Donovan said. "Anything that can help reduce [Australia's obesity] problem in my books is good. Anything we can put in place and move forward with, definitely."

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who has been an outspoken campaigner for a sugar tax in the UK and recently extended his mobile health kitchen to the Queensland community of Cherbourg, called on Australia to follow suit after the United Kingdom imposed a tax on sugary soft drinks.

While Donovan said increasing the cost of soft drinks would "definitely be a deterrent," he urged for any tax to be combined with subsidies for healthier options as well as improved education about nutrition.

"Our healthier foods should be at a more reasonable price and obtainable for everyone across the board.

"It's back to a simple foundation, everything is based on an educational basis and an understanding.

"It's a conscious decision of what you take into your fuel tank and the way you live your life through a weekly basis."

It 'really does need legislation': diabetes expert

Debbie Chen, a diabetes educator and dietitian from Brisbane's Institute of Urban Indigenous Health, says the obesity issue in Australia "really does need legislation" and that remote communities would stand to benefit most. 

"We know that the intake of sugary drinks is a real issue, and many people still aren’t aware of how much sugar is in the drinks themselves," Chen said.

"To tackle the issue of obesity, we need to really tackle it in the same way that we have been trying to tackle tobacco for the last twenty years.

“Having the sugar tax, what we would be doing is making the unhealthy choices more expensive to choose and it would increase the access of healthy food choices.”

More sugary drinks consumed by Indigenous Australians

Data from Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2013 shows that 56 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged two years and over consume sweetened drinks on any given day.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people drink them at a higher rate than non-Indigenous people in every age bracket. 

Consumption is particularly high among children aged two and three years old, with more than half of this age group drinking high-sugar beverages, compared with just over 30 per cent of non-Indigenous children of the same age. 

A high consumption of sugar is linked with Type 2 Diabetes, which is a largely preventable disease. It can result in excess weight gain and lead to problems such as obesity, which Indigenous Australians are 1.5 times more likely to face.

ABS data shows one in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have diabetes or high blood sugar levels, with higher rates in remote areas. 

Considering the statistics, Chen says that remote communities would benefit most from legislation that encourages people to make healthy choices.

"We know that over sixty per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are overweight, and also one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have risk of, or have diabetes. It is three times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians," Chen said.

"That is a concern particularly in the remote communities. In all communities it is a concern because we know that water is the best drink, or unflavoured milk particularly for the children are the best choices."

'Pull your finger out, Australia'

Jamie Oliver called on Australia to follow suit after the United Kingdom imposed a tax on sugary soft drinks, saying "Pull your finger out Australia," in a live Facebook video with the post titled 'The food revolution is here'.

"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."

The levy, which will be introduced in two years, will apply to all drinks with a total sugar content of above 5 grams per 100ml, which includes soft drinks, energy drinks and ice teas.