The latest survey by The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 67% of the Australian population is overweight – up from 63.4% in 2014. I am not suggesting that our heaviness is entirely attributable to sugar, but it's close relationship is well documented.
Around 30 countries have so far introduced or given notice of a sugar tax. Most schemes target sugary soft drinks, but some include a wider range of items found in most supermarkets. Sugar taxes are relatively simple. The higher a product's sugar content, the higher the tax. The expected outcome, now proven in every country where the tax has been introduced, is that consumers will opt for the cheaper option and consume less sugar.Since the introduction of the Soft Drink Industry Levy in the UK a year ago, Beverage Daily reports clear evidence that sales of mainstream sugarfree drinks are rising and full sugar products falling.
"FOR COCA-COLA, MARKET LEADER IN THE UK, VOLUME PURCHASES OF COKE ZERO SUGAR INCREASED 50% OVER THE PAST YEAR. FOR PEPSI, SUGAR-FREE MAX ROSE 17%. IN CONTRAST, SALES OF FULL SUGAR CLASSIC COKE AND BLUE PEPSI BOTH FELL."In terms of market forces, Beverage Daily also reports an increase in the mainstream Energy Drinks also going sugar free. Lucozade Zero, reformulated in response to the levy, has been the most successful launch in the company's history.
Sugar taxes around the world vary, but taking the approximate middle range, such a tax in Australia would raise between $500 and $600 million. The theory of imposing the tax is that it not only deters consumption of sugar-laden drinks but the funds raised - $500 million plus, would finance a number of awareness and health related programs and strategies. For example - consumer campaigns on the relationship between sugar and obesity, the impact of obesity in personal life and society and the importance of a healthy diet. One of the biggest issues of obesity is also the cost to the public health system. Funds in some countries are also channelled to specific sugar related disease management and research programs.
The conundrum for society is the debate between personal responsibility and government intervention. Giving over personal responsibility to what must inevitably involve the law of the land is anathema to many. On the other hand, for a government to ignore what is obviously becoming a fiscal and social nightmare really is an abrogation of the collective responsibility – and surely that is the business of any elected government.
Sugar is not the only cause of obesity and a sugar tax is not the silver bullet – but we ABS stats confirm that we continue to stack on weight and we need to do more to deal with the obvious contributors to obesity before the problem overwhelms us. If obesity continues to grow at its present rate, we will all pay, whether we are personally obese of not. The huge cost to society makes the extra few cents on a bottle of soft-drink appear non-existent.
As a product, sugar is generally way closer to something that resembles an actual plant than most of the substitutes. Many substitutes have been cooked up in a laboratory somewhere, and like fake meat burgers, you are well advised to carefully read what your sugar substitute is made of and make yourself aware of its documented risks. (Alternatively, you might consider simply drinking free tap water.)