Introducing a sugar tax in Australia would be a “questionable” and “quick fix” response that fails to go to the heart of the obesity debate, say Australian experts.
While local health organisations, including the Heart Foundation, renewed calls for the sweet levy after the United Kingdom announced it would implement one from 2018 to battle obesity, others say it won’t solve the problem.
It would see the cost of drinks with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml rise nearly 35¢ per litre, while those with more than eight grams would jump 45¢.
But Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson Themis Chryssidis said targeting one aspect of the obesity problem would not solve it.
“Rather than trying to exclude nutrients and demonising foods, we should really be working with Australians to make sure they have a healthier diet, which includes all foods and ultimately reduces their reliance on sugary foods,” he told The New Daily.
On average, Australians consume about 27 teaspoons, or 108g, of sugar each day (including natural sugars) – double the 12 teaspoons recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to the most recent statistics, per capita we consume about 42kg of sugar each year, more than 938,000 tonnes annually. This equated to nearly 120,000 large trucks or 18 times the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
See the video below for a snapshot of Australia’s sweet-tooth:
‘Sugar is not the enemy’
Despite the bad publicity, there was a downward trend in refined sugar consumption in the past four decades. Unlike the sugars that occur naturally in foods, like fruit, refined sugars are artificially added and likened to ’empty calories’.
A 2015 study found per capita it had dropped from 50.3kg in 1970 to 42kg in 2011. Dietitian and nutritionist Bill Shrapnel co-authored the study, and told The New Daily it was likely that trend had continued.
“When you look at that trend, it shows a fall in our consumption from about the early 1950s,” he said.
“There has also been quite a down trend in sweetened beverages … bearing in mind they are a major single source of sugar, we can assume that trend has continued.”
Rather than a tax, which could only work if it were significant, Mr Shrapnel said the focus should be on enjoying all food in moderation.
“I fear we are in the process of repeating the mistake we made with fat, when we attributed weight gain to fat consumption wrongly, when that proved to not be right, the media … said let’s blame sugar instead,” he said.
‘Significant economic burden’
It seemed unlikely the levy would be implemented in Australia, after Trade Minister Steve Ciobo told ABC TV on Thursday he was “not a fan” of taxing sugary drinks.
“I think the more you get in and distort these types of things, the more government causes havoc across the system,” he said.
But other health advocates said a levy would send a “strong public message” to the industry and the community.
“A lot of people, it is not even on their radar that sugar-sweetened beverages and high sweetened foods are a high health risk for them,” Curtin University public health and nutrition expert Dr Christina Pollard told The New Daily.
“It is very worrying, and it is time [for a tax].
“It contributes significantly to our economic burden and it is going to increase as we age and become more overweight.”