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Health coalition renews push for sugar tax

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Australia’s food and beverages industry is warning there’s no quick fix for the nation’s obesity problem amid fresh calls for sugary drinks to be slugged with a new tax.

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The Federal Government is being urged to introduce a 20 per cent sugar tax as part of an eight-point plan drawn up by a coalition of health and community groups designed to tackle the increasing number of Australians who are overweight or obese.

They also want restrictions on TV junk food ads, a national obesity task force and mandatory health star ratings for food packaging by mid-2019.

But the nation’s food and drinks industry has hit back, arguing that while obesity is a serious and complex public health issue, a broad and holistic approach is needed.

“We believe there is no single cause or quick fix solution,” a joint statement released by eight major food and drinks groups led by the Australian Food & Grocery Council said today.

“Industry continues to demonstrate strong compliance with self-regulatory food and beverage advertising codes which have virtually removed all non-core food advertising primarily directed to children.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce last November ruled out his Nationals party supporting a sugar tax on soft drinks, saying it wasn’t the job of the tax office to promote healthy lifestyles and Australians should eat less and exercise more.

At the time, a Grattan Institute report recommended a content tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar on water-based, non-alcoholic sugar-sweetened drinks.

Nearly a year later, the group of 34 leading health and community groups led by the Obesity Policy Coalition say its time the government acted.

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said with 63 per cent of Australian adults and 27 per cent of children either overweight or obese, it made no sense not to have a national obesity policy.

“Without action, the costs of obesity and poor diet to society will only continue to spiral upwards,” she said.

“The policies we have set out to tackle obesity therefore aim to not only reduce morbidity and mortality but also improve wellbeing, bring vital benefits to the economy and set Australians up for a healthier future.”

The OPC estimates the annual cost of Australia’s weight and obesity problem between 2011 and 2012 was about $8.6 billion, including GP services, hospital care, absenteeism and government subsidies.

Martin said kids were bombarded with ads for junk food and high-sugar drinks that are cheaper than water.

Many so called healthy foods were also being laden with sugar and saturated fat.

“Making a healthy choice has never been more difficult,” she said.

Professor of epidemiology and equity in public health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, said if current trends continue, about 1.75 million people aged over 20 will die from diseases linked to overweight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer heart disease, between 2011 and 2050.

Obesity action plan

* Time-based restrictions on TV junk food advertising to kids

* Clear food reformulation targets

* Mandatory health star ratings by July 2019

* A national active transport strategy

* Fund for weight-related public education campaigns

* A 20 per cent health levy on sugary drinks

* A national obesity task force

* Develop and monitor national diet, physical activity and weight guidelines.

(Source: OPC, Tipping the Scales)

– AAP

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