Straining waistlines, straining budgets: The sugar tax and the cost of obesity


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Straining waistlines, straining budgets: The sugar tax and the cost of obesity

It is fair to say that Australians have a vast variety of food, including those that are nutrient-rich, fresh, and organic at our fingertips. However, the recently-released AIWH report Australia's Food and Nutrition 2012 shows us that we are still making poor, unhealthy food choicesi.

Australia is currently facing a crisis of poor nutrition and obesityii. Our expanding waistlines are said to be caused by a sedentary lifestyle and increased consumption of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foodsiii, which may be more appealing and hence preferred over healthier options due to their availability and costsiv.

Of late, the health, economic and social costs of our diet have led some politicians and health care officials to consider implementing a tax on unhealthy food - referred to in the media as the 'Sugar Tax'v,vi. The reasoning behind such a tax - to make unhealthy foods more expensive - is to deter consumers from purchasing them in the first place.

Poor diet - including food that is high in fat and salt - is linked to obesity and health complications that cost Australia billions of dollars annually.

Australia's obesity epidemic

A 2007 OECD report shows that the rate of obesity in Australia had nearly tripled in the last twenty yearsvii. A 2010 OECD report found that one in four Australians are obese, and we rank the fifth highest of the OECD countries for the proportion of the population who are obesevii. The 2007-8 National Health Survey found that 61% of all Australian adults had a Body Mass Index (BMI) that placed them in either the overweight or obese categoriesvii.

Even scarier is that as a nation, we are getting fatter at a younger agevii. In 2009, 25.5% of boys and 23.8% of girls between the ages of 5-17 were either overweight or obesevii. For adults, the National Health Survey found that the incidence of being overweight and obese tended to increase with age but decreased after the 75 year markvii.

The Preventative Health Taskforce paper on obesity illustrates the impact of obesity. The report shows that the burden of disease attributable solely to high body mass is now close to that of tobaccoviii. Obesity has been directly linked to causing about one-quarter of type-2 diabetes (23.8%) and osteoarthritis (24.5%), one-fifth of cardiovascular disease (21.3%), and colorectal, breast, uterine and kidney cancers (20.5%)viii.

A combination of inactivity and high blood pressure contribute to 60% of the burden for type-2 diabetesviii, and 50% of total burden for cardiovascular disease comes down to poor diet, inactivity, high body mass, and elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levelsviii.

The cost of obesity

Obesity puts an enormous strain on the country's economy. In 2008 it was estimated that the overall cost of obesity to society and governments was $58.2 billionix. In the same year, Access Economics found that the Australian community spent $8.3 billion in 2008 on obesity in direct financial costsvii. $2.0 billion (24%) of this was the cost to the health system. The report also found that $1.9 billion (23%) was needed to cover carer costs and it is estimated that lost productivity due to obesity cost $3.6 billionvii (44%). The Australian Government spent $2.8 billion covering these costs (34.3% of the costs) and state governments covered 5.1%ix. If current trends continue and more people become obese, we can expect these costs to increase.

The government has succumbed to a tax on unhealthy food to improve the nation's health.

Tackling obesity: government initiatives

The 2010 Government's response Obesity Recommendations to the National Preventative Health Taskforce's report looks at the implementation of government initiatives to tackle obesityx. Initiatives include school education programmesxi, investment in sport and recreational facilitiesxii, the development of informational advertising campaigns about health and tackling the promotion of unhealthy foods and drinksxiii, the current review of food and beverage policy and taxation systemsxiv, and creation of The Food and Health Dialoguexiv - joint government-industry-public health initiative aimed at promoting healthier food choices for all Australiansxv.

However, it seems that hope is not lost! Results of a recent survey conducted by the Cancer Council Victoria and Obesity Policy Coalition with 1500 participants proved many in favour of tactics to promote healthy eatingxvi. 83% of those surveyed supported a ban on junk-food advertising during popular children viewing times, 84% favoured of kilojoules information displays at fast-food outlets and 87% agreed to a reduction of fat, sugar and salt in processed foodsxvi.

To maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of developing health complications, ensure that you eat a well-balanced and healthy diet and keep active. The NHMRC's dietary guidelines recommend that you enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, lean meat/fish/poultry/alternatives, and dairy and/or alternativesxvii. Water is also recommendedxvii, and alcohol is only to be consumed in moderationxvii. And to protect in the event of illness, disability or death, take out life insurance. Get a quote from Allianz today.


i Australian Institute of Welfare and Health, 2012, Australia's Food & Nutrition, http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737422355, p.94

ii Australian Institute of Welfare and Health, 2012, Australia's Food & Nutrition, http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737422355, p.182

iii Australian Institute of Welfare and Health, 2012, Australia's Food & Nutrition, http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737422355, p.195

iv Jain, N. 2010, Why are junk food and fast food so popular, The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/health/article83168.ece

v Sacks, G., 2011, The Conversation, Is a 'fat tax' the answer to Australia's obesity crisis?, 5 October 2011, http://theconversation.edu.au/is-a-fat-tax-the-answer-to-australias-obesity-crisis-3712

vi AM with Tony Eastley, 2012, Health researchers call for tax on high-sugar foods, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 2 February 2012, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-02/health-researchers-call-for-tax-on-high-sugar-foods/3806818

vii Australian Institute of Welfare and Health, 2012, Australia's Food & Nutrition, http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737422355, p.188

viii Preventative Health Taskforce, 2009, Technical Report No 1: Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/E233F8695823F16CCA2574DD00818E64/$File/obesity-jul09.pdf, p.5

ix Preventative Health Taskforce, 2009, Technical Report No 1: Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/E233F8695823F16CCA2574DD00818E64/$File/obesity-jul09.pdf, p.6

x Australian Government, 2009, Taking Preventative Action: A response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, a report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/6B7B17659424FBE5CA25772000095458/$File/tpa.pdf

xi Australian Government, 2009, Taking Preventative Action: A response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, a report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/6B7B17659424FBE5CA25772000095458/$File/tpa.pdf, p.41

xii Australian Government, 2009, Taking Preventative Action: A response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, a report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/6B7B17659424FBE5CA25772000095458/$File/tpa.pdf, p.35

xiii Australian Government, 2009, Taking Preventative Action: A response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, a report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/6B7B17659424FBE5CA25772000095458/$File/tpa.pdf, pp.38, 44

xiv Australian Government, 2009, Taking Preventative Action: A response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, a report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/6B7B17659424FBE5CA25772000095458/$File/tpa.pdf, p.37

xv Department of Health and Ageing, Food and Health Dialogue - About us, http://www.foodhealthdialogue.gov.au/internet/foodandhealth/publishing.nsf/Content/about-us

xvi News.com, 2012, Aussies back junk food crackdown, http://www.news.com.au/news/aussies-throw-weight-behind-junk-food-crackdown/story-fnejlrpu-1226441912184

xvii The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2003, Food for health: Dietary guidelines for Australians, http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n31.pdf, p.4