Friday, July 26, 2024

Australian health leaders call for levy on sugary drinks

The Rethink Sugary Drink alliance is calling for a 20% health levy on sugary drink manufacturers.

Yesterday (5 February), the alliance, with members including the Australian Dental Association, Food for Health Alliance, and Heart Foundation, launched a new position statement in Canberra. New research by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) reveals the policy could reduce Australians’ annual sugar intake by 2.6kg per person and raise billions of dollars for health initiatives.

“This policy really is a no brainer – it would raise vital funds for preventive health and protect Australians’ health by decreasing the risk of diseases linked to excess weight like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers,” says AMA President Professor Steve Robson.

“Our modelling shows that a 20% health levy on sugary drink manufacturers could raise around $4 billion over four years. These funds could be invested into crucial health promotion campaigns, reducing pressure on our stretched health system.

Research also shows there could be 4400 fewer cases of heart disease, 16,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, and 1100 fewer strokes over 25 years if government takes this step.”

A ‘misguided’ levy?

The levy has, however, been rejected by the Australian Beverages Council, the National Retail Association and the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, who label it as a “misguided” measure.

“The tax is a misguided attempt to address complex problems like obesity with a simplistic, quick fix that lacks real world evidence it has any discernible impact on weight,” says Australian Beverages Council CEO Geoff Parker.

“Consumption of sugar from drinks in Australia has decreased significantly over a 20-year period at the same time obesity, overweight and diabetes rates have continued to rise. Clearly soft drinks aren’t driving the nation’s expanding waistline which makes this call for a tax illogical and clearly just a revenue raiser.

“The last National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey in 2011-12 showed that soft drinks were ranked seventh in kilojoule contribution from discretionary food and drinks for children, and eighth for adults. If the public health organisations were serious about addressing obesity and overweight, we’d recommend they started at the top of the lists where discretionary kilojoules are coming from.”

Sugar Reduction Pledge

In 2018, the Australian Beverages Council along with the nation’s largest non-alcoholic drink companies announced the Sugar Reduction Pledge, a commitment to reduce sugar across their portfolios by 25% from 2015 to 2025.

As of 31 December 2022, pledge signatories had reduced sugar across portfolios by 18%.

“The reduction in sugar has been achieved without price hikes to the weekly supermarket shop or making buying a drink more expensive when people are out and about,” says Mr Parker.

“Since 2015, bottled water sales has outstripped sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drink sales and since 2022, no and low sugar drinks have accounted for more than half of all drink sales.

“This reinforces published peer reviewed research on more than two decades of drink consumption in Australia which revealed a long-term shift in Australians’ non-alcoholic drink choices over the period, including that Australians now drink almost five times more bottled water than they did two decades ago. Australians are making healthier choices for them and their families without another tax on their household budget.”

Mr Parker says the drinks industry will continue to support consumers with more choices and less sugar.

“We urge other sectors to play their part and commit to their own reductions in sugar, saturated fat and sodium,” he says. “In 2024, we need a whole-of-industry commitment to playing its part along with government in addressing this complex problem.”

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