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Does Australia need a soft drink tax?

Posted by: Patrick Catanzariti on January 12, 2016

soft drink tax

Australia, we have a drinking problem.

Soft drink consumption amongst teens and young adults is rising. In 2014, 56 per cent of Australians aged 14-24 drank at least one soft drink per week. It’s not just kids – Australia is in the top ten countries for soft drink consumption per capita overall.

What’s the problem? Soft drinks, and other sugar sweetened beverages like fruit juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, have been linked to increases in weight gain, obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as poor cardiovascular and dental health.

One in four Australian adolescents are overweight or obese. Add that to Australia’s already high rates of obese and overweight adults – almost two thirds of Aussie adults are overweight – and the numbers are scary.

Reducing sugary drinks by just one a day can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. But how can we encourage people to give up their favourite fizzy drink?

A number of countries have taken the step of introducing a tax on sugary drinks to do just that. Mexico introduced a nationwide tax of 10% on all soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages in 2014. In the same year, the Californian city of Berkeley introduced a similar tax. France has had one since 2012.

Research suggests they work. In Mexico, purchases of soft drinks dropped six per cent across the country in the year after the tax was introduced. In Australia, there have been calls for a similar tax to be brought in.

The Rethink Sugary Drinks coalition, made up of major Australian health organisations including the Cancer Council, Diabetes Association and Heart Foundation, supports the introduction of a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks as the most effective measure to reduce consumption.

So do 8 out of 10 Australians – as long as the revenue raised is put towards programs to target child obesity.

A tax would provide an incentive for customers to limit their consumption, and for manufacturers to prioritise sugar-free alternatives. Sugar-free soft drinks are becoming more and more popular in Australia, and a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will encourage still more people to swap.

Not everybody’s on board, though. Geoff Parker, CEO of the Australian Beverages Council, states that ‘taxes or limitations don’t teach healthy lifestyles,’ adding that education is the best option to combat sugar consumption and obesity.

Not only do results from other countries suggest that these taxes do work, but they can create conversation and awareness simply by existing. More talk about how soft drinks are affecting our nation’s health can only be a good thing.

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