Guess what got trotted out again this week? Another obesity linked to sugar report, accompanied once more with the suggestion of a 'sugar tax'. Seems that we get the latest version of the same old obesity story, coupled with the option for a sugar tax, on slow news days, just ahead of it all being stuffed back on the shelf and roundly ignored.
Getting above the noise of the sugar lobby is no mean feat - actually to date, it's been no feat at all. The interested parties to sugar span from growers to product makers and there are so many snouts in the sugar-trough, it's no wonder their squeeling is all we ever seem to hear. The PR heavyweights behind the sugar-piggery make climate-deniers seem positively lightweight.
But a new and unprecedented heavyweight has lurched onto the scene and may well be set to challenge the game. COVID.
The problem with reducing our intake of sugar is that it is like smoking, only way worse. For starters, we are all into it. It was pretty easy to spot a smoker. In the end, cigarettes went up in smoke because the impact was able to be isolated and its health cost clearly measured, despite years of active campaigning and millions spent to cover it up. Sugar, on the other hand, is in pretty much every processed food we eat or drink and it's not so easy to isolate without cries of discrimmination - producer or product.
What is easy to isolate is that our nation is obese and one of the fattest on the planet. We have an obesity and diabetes crisis and the cost to our health care system is now well into the billions.
It seems that we are able to muster an impressive array of word play headlines, but not much change. "Australia should throw its weight behind a sugar tax" (Cancer Council); "Sugar hit: Tax back on cards for our 'most addictive white powder" and "Criticised by sugar cane growers as a lightweight and lazy public health solution" (In Queensland).
Sugary sodas have long been the initial target of proposed sugar taxes. A most recent study in the USA tells us pretty much what all other studies and imposed taxes have already said: Taxes could greatly reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, according to a new study released by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). A 25% increase in the price of sugar-sweetened beverages resulting from higher excise taxes would likely lead to a 34% reduction in consumption of these drinks, the study shows.
“SUGARY BEVERAGES GREATLY CONTRIBUTE TO OVERWEIGHT AND OBESITY, AND THESE CONDITIONS ARE KNOWN TO CAUSE HEART DISEASE, DIABETES, AND OTHER SERIOUS NON-COMMUNICABLE DISEASES. REDUCING CONSUMPTION OF THESE BEVERAGES IMPROVES HEALTH, AND EXCISE TAXATION IS AN EFFECTIVE TOOL TO ACHIEVE THIS.”
The Cancer Council says that there are 11 types of cancer linked to obesity. Cancer Council research shows that almost 4000 cancer cases each year are linked to weight alone. Another 1,800 cases a year are linked to physical inactivity and 7000 Australian cancer cases each year are linked to poor diet.
Add to that cancer, diabeties, tooth decay, mental health and relationship issues; just to name a few.
It now costs $50 for a pack of cigarettes and a fair chunk of that amount is exise. Tax. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) estimate that 11.6% of adults smoke daily - down from around 25% at its peak. Countless studies show systematic declines in smoking rates each time the governement added another level of tax.
Just one 375ml can of soft drink contains 10 teaspoons of sugar - 4 more than the WHO says is the optimum daily intake.
There is no nutritional value whatsoever in soft drinks and so-called energy drinks despite the nonsense sometimes printed on the cans and bottles.
Since 1980, the obesity rates in Australia have more than tripled to 315 from 10%.
The Grattan Institute estimates obesity is now costing Australian taxpayers more than $5 billion a year in healthcare costs, welfare expenditure and lost income taxes (heavier people work less).
Over the past four years, 20 countries have introduced a sugar tax including six US cities. Mexico was the first in 2014. Since then, sales of sugary drinks have seen a sustained drop of about 8 per cent per year. The fall in consumption among poorer communities, known to be the biggest consumers of sugar sweetened drinks, has been much higher.
(The information in this section is from ABC article, as are the stats below, most of which can be easily sourced).
Sugary drinks are often targeted as a place to start with a sugar tax. One reason is that they are both cheap and full of sugar. The other is that the tax targets a product instead of an industry. Australia's sugar is mostly grown in North Queensland, and that is a relationship the federal government is keen to maintain, along with the relevant seats.
We are however in a different environment post COVID and that may well diminsh the 'problem' of who or what gets targeted first as the economics are sudenly more more powerful than who might get upset. Economics, both as a revenue raiser and a revenue saver. Watch this space.
Some of the names for added sugar that you will find on food labels include: dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, sucrose.