23rd Mar 2016

UK sugar levy sweetens case for local glucose tax

Congress applauds UK health campaigners and parliament on the promise of a sugar levy to help tackle the nation’s mounting obesity crisis, and says it may encourage the Australian government to consider a similar policy to relieve the enormous economic burden caused by obesity and to improve the health and wellbeing of more than half the nation.

“For many years Congress has been urging successive Australian governments to consider implementing our own national glucose tax at a minimum of 20% or higher and to allocate accrued funds to subside fresh fruit and vegetables so that produce is reduced to affordable prices, particularly in rural and remote Australia,” says Congress CEO, Donna Ah Chee.

“Here in Australia, our population is characterised by largely separate remote and urban populations dispersed over vast distances. Due to the difficulty accessing affordable fruit and vegetables, obesity and other diseases related to poor diet such as diabetes and kidney failure, are found to be more prevalent in rural and remote areas compared to urban areas.

“It is also more common amongst lower socio-economic people who can least afford quality, fresh food and are often more susceptible to sugar addictions for a range of reasons.

“In 2015, Congress saw 1199 people with diabetes from within our health service area giving a prevalence rate of 1199/9608 or 13%. The prevalence rate is much higher in remote communities in Central Australia with some higher than 25%.

“At present, there are more than 300 people on renal dialysis in Central Australia.

“While Aboriginal people living in remote Australia are at greater risk of suffering from health problems such as obesity, the last census found that more than half of all Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese.

“In 2014, Obesity Australia reported that the annual financial cost of obesity was estimated at AUD $8.3 billion with an additional AUD$49.9 billion in the form of lost wellbeing.

“There is a need to consider public health taxes and incentive schemes to support healthier lifestyles for all Australians more broadly, in the same way that tobacco taxes and campaigns have helped reduce smoking. This includes the need for a volumetric tax on alcohol and a minimum unit price.  Such measures have the greatest benefit on the health of the most disadvantaged.

“It is time for government to use effective financial levers to support a change in consumption otherwise, obesity and diabetes rates and related costs will continue to rise,” said Ms Ah Chee.

Media Contact: Emily MacKenzie 0408 741 691