With obesity ballooning, a tax on sugary drinks is worth scrutiny

Health experts largely agree the most significant health issue facing Australia is obesity, not only because of its direct problems but due to the escalating conditions like type two diabetes and other poor health outcomes. It also adds to one of the most significant drains on the public purse through ballooning healthcare costs.

For a glimpse of this “time bomb” that has so many health professionals deeply concerned about the future, one need only take a glimpse at the stats; two thirds of Australian adults and one in four children aged 5-17 are classified overweight or obese. In some places, it easily exceeds these unwelcome figures.

Yet despite declared widespread acknowledgment from the health sector this is a problem, political leadership is perversely impotent to deal with it even in small preventative steps. The ominous warnings of global warming for 2050 may have resulted in a new low in directionless and self-assuring leadership but the obesity crisis is a health issue to hit the very next generation. Children born today will feel its effects by 2030 and their lives will be the poorer for it.

Despite advice, including from the World Health Organisation and 34 health and consumer groups that a 20 per cent tax, even as a single part of a broader range of strategies would save lives; business and industry interests trump public health again.​  

Obesity expert Professor Robert Lustig earlier this year made it clear sugar and not calories were the major culprit. But he argued the cards are all stacked with the food industry because they know the addictive quality of sugars particularly where they play such a key and easy lure in what is known as an the obesogenic environment we have created for ourselves. 

It would come as no surprise to many that the lobbyists pushing hardest against any imposition which might change behaviours or even raise revenue to fund preventative measures, is the industry reaping the greatest profits form it. The Australian Beverages Council boasts in its annual reports about its lobbying success in keeping politicians on side to keep the tax off the table. The conflict shows again decisions are made with sectional and political motivation and not informed scientific input. Simplifying obesity into “a moral failing” of the individual is a diversion by opponents, obscuring industry’s role, demeaning more complex investigations and distracting politicians into inaction.