– by Sophia Joyce
In the fight against obesity there have been suggestions to increase nutritional education, remove soft drinks from schools and change food-advertising tactics. But there is a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that says adding a ‘fat tax’ to foods high in saturated fats and sugars will help save thousands of lives and reduce health care costs.
A fat tax is a surcharge placed on fatty foods and beverages, and it aims to discourage unhealthy diets and lifestyle choices. Numerous studies say that as the price of fatty foods decrease consumption increases, which suggests that eating behaviours may be more responsive to price increases rather than nutritional education.
So it begs the question, should a fat tax be added to Australia’s junk food to tackle our growing obesity issue?
Obesity is a troubling problem in Australia, as two out of three adults and one in four children are classed as overweight or obese according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The Centre of Applied Health Economics Dr Tracy Comans says that failure to act will lead to ‘catastrophic’ results for the health system.
“We need to look beyond blaming individuals and towards the structural things in our society. Are we okay with junk food being cheaper and easier to buy than good quality food?”
If a fat tax were to work in the long term, we would need an approach that taxes unhealthy food rather than just measuring the fat content. We would also need to consider the salt, sugar and fat content along with the benefits and nutrients of these foods such as fibre, and fruit and vegetable content.
Critics of the tax – including the food industry – claim that it will unfairly punish the poor and make the government focus their time and money on promoting healthier and more active lifestyles.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says, “The Commonwealth Government has already commissioned an independent review of the Australian taxation system and did not recommend the introduction of a taxation system designed to decrease the production, promotion and consumption of unhealthy food and beverage products.”
But if a fat tax were to be implemented where would the revenue go? As this tax has not been fully considered by the Australian government, the money would hopefully go towards lowering the price of healthy foods and be used for other public health measures.
However the fat tax would be designed to create motivation for individuals to stop or limit their consumption of unhealthy foods but to choose healthier cheaper foods, so the tax revenue would not be high.
Adding a fat tax would help fix the obesity problem, but it is unlikely that one single measure would solve it completely. To make a difference to our obesity levels, Australia would need to have a number of interventions such as restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods, starting public education campaigns and improving food labelling such as using a simple traffic light labelling system.
Photo Credits: Featured Image by Philip Toscano/PA; Belly Image by Alexis C. Glenn; Money Image by HoskingIndustries/Flickr.