Should sugary drinks be taxed?

Britain’s finance minister has announced a tax on sugary drinks to help reduce rising childhood obesity rates, but would a similar levy work in Australia?

The UK tax, set to be introduced in 2018, will be applied to drinks with more than five grams (just over a teaspoon) of sugar per 100mls, however milkshakes and pure fruit juices will be exempt.

It will tax corporations, but the costs are expected to be passed on to consumers.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who has been campaigning for a sugar tax took to social media urging the Australian government to follow suit.

“It’s about time your governments got on this,” says Oliver. “Australia, pull your finger out.”

Bupa’s National Medical Director Dr Rob Grenfell says just as the tobacco tax has reduced smoking rates, a sugar tax here in Australia is likely to help reduce our obesity rates.

Currently almost two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese and one in four children are affected.

“We all need to consume some sugar in part of our diet, but if you look at the Australian Dietary Guidelines, sugar sweetened beverages are a discretionary food, which simply put is it is a sometimes food,” says Dr Grenfell.

Dr Grenfell says it’s important people educate themselves about the contents of the food and drinks they consume.

“If you’re drinking soft drink every day you have to cut down on energy in other areas,” says Dr Grenfell. “Sugary drinks are empty calories which means they don’t fill you up and have no nutritional value at all.”

boy drinking out of a straw

While there’s currently no consensus on how much sugar we should eat each day, the World Health Organization says added sugar should make up less than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake. That means consuming no more than 50g or 12 teaspoons of sugar a day for most adults.

“What you eat is your choice, however you really shouldn’t exceed the recommended daily intake you require because if you do you’re likely to put on weight.”

Dr Grenfell says in some cases a price rise on sugary drinks might serve as a wakeup call.

“If you really need to have treats, treat them as just that and have them as a sometimes food,” says Dr Grenfell.

Dr Grenfell says the marketing of sugary drinks is a big challenge for parents.

“Things like sweetened waters, fruit drinks and sports drinks are often full of hidden sugars and salt,” says Dr Grenfell.

He says the best advice is if you’re thirsty drink water.

“You will find that if you stop drinking sugar drinks over a period of time you actually won’t want to drink them.”

Dr Grenfell says the health star rating system is a great way to help find products without too much added sugar in the supermarket.  The free FoodSwitch app, developed by Bupa and The George Institute, can also help suggest healthier options.

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