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Australia's Fatwa - Time for a Sugar Tax

Australia's Fatwa - Time for a Sugar Tax

Will a tax on sugar help make us healthier?

More than 2.1 billion adults around the world are overweight, according to the World Health Organisation.That means 60% of us are overweight or obese. If we continue on our current trajectory, 80% of us will be overweight or obese by 2025.

Australia is not the most obese country on the planet, but among first world countries, its obesity ranks alongside the UK and USA as the fastest growing high income countries. 

There are surprisingly few reasons why people become obese. What we eat and what we drink and how much we exercise. There are undoubtedly genetic reasons in a very small minority of people but even these cases can be managed.

We know that Sugar is the single biggest factor in obesity. 

The world by now needs little convincing that sugar, in excess, is a killer. The problem has been what to do about it, especially as it permeates everything we eat. Education in all its shapes and forms appears to have had some impact in that the rate of sugar consumption has slowed slightly in many countries. 

And those cities in the USA who have taxed sugar and used the funds for nutrition programs are claiming great success.

However the graph of total consumption is still heading north at an alarming rate. (This pic shows the percentage of each population who are obese.)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last year announced that it is cutting its recommended sugar intake for adults in half, from the original 10% of daily calories to 5%.


Would taxing the $4 billion sugary beverages and drinks get this guy off soda?

Taxing seems to have worked in Mexico who are now in their second year of a 10% tax on soft drinks. Consumption of these sugar laden drinks is down 12% - in just one year! 

It’s hard to get an exact figure on what the soft drink market is worth in Australia but IBIS suggests a figure close to $4 billion. In round figures a 10% tax would therefore collect about $400 million. 

With $400 million, the government could have an industry funded community anti-obesity or nutrition education program like that in Philadelphia and Boulder, USA. Such a strategy would address a major community health issue, cost free – paid for by the major users. It would show action from Canberra and like smoking, potentially reduce the consumption of sugar. And there it is right there. There is no national obesity strategy in Australia and further the tactics being used by some to ensure there isn't one are right up there with those employed by the tobacco industry back in the day. Delaying, scuttling, obstructing, evading. Who me?

In Australia, big sugar says NO

Using his charm, good looks and mostly his money, the fox got himself a seat at the hen house dinner table. If you unravel this metaphor, it simply means that the biggest pushers of sugar laden products in Australia are part of the committees who decide on how consumers are advised of sugar content (labelling) or the encouragement of healthy eating (Healthy Food  Partnership). So you can imagine where that ends up.

Realistically, while it makes sense for sugar product makers to have an opinion, it certainly does not make sense to have them setting policy for health advice. What does make sense is how much the food and beverage industry spends on political donations and lobbying - notably the Beverages Council. 

I will leave it to you to join the dots.

Countries with a sugar tax

There are now nearly 40 countries with a sugar tax, including the UK, a recent addition. The USA isn't one of the 40, but 7 of the biggest USA cities including San Francisco and Philadelphia do have a sugar tax.

Side note - Sugar and Cancer

In some potentially even more motivational news, a study released October 2017, finally proved that sugar exacerbates cancer. Almost all the cells in the human body require energy, and they derive this energy from the sugars in the food we eat. Cancer cells also require sugars to grow, but their glucose intake is a lot higher than that of healthy cells, as is the rate at which they ferment that glucose into lactic acid.

In the study conducted over 9 years by VIB, KU Leuven and VUB, scientists have finally proven that sugar ‘awakens’ cancer cells and makes tumours more aggressive.

Published in the academic journal Nature Communications, the project was started in 2008 with a focus on how tumours convert significantly higher amounts of sugar into lactate compared to healthy tissues. 

The research continues into how the information can now be used to manage cancer, but these basic facts won't change, sugar fiends!

I have kept this brief for attention span and time reasons – yours, not mine! There is a ton of material available on this subject. Kind of makes you wonder why, if so much is available, that so little is done?

*References: 2012 report Sugar Consumption in Australia: A Statistical Update. | 
More information on sugar:
Sugar Secrets That Sugar Film  |  Sugar & Cancer Study  Images: Main: Unsplash - Mae Mu / Coke - Shutterstock / Txking | No - Unsplash - Gemma Evans


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