We’ve all read and heard about the dangers of sugar, particularly the excessive amounts that many people consume. It’s not only the sugar we add to foods and drinks, but all forms of carbohydrate and especially the sugars that are added to foods where we don’t necessarily expect it – the hidden sugars. News reports from the UK last week announced the introduction of a sugar tax on sugary drinks from 2018, with the goal being to reduce child obesity. Jamie Oliver is vocally supportive of this tax, and urges Australia to follow suit.
The Australian Minister for Rural Health, Fiona Nash, has ruled out the introduction of a sugar tax, instead indicating her support for higher tax on cigarettes because “cigarettes are far worse for people’s health than obesity”.
Visiting UK cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra, who appeared on ABCs Lateline on Tuesday night (see Interview: Dr Aseem Malhotra), says Minister Nash is not informed of current scientific research. He said that the Lancet Global Burden of Disease report reveals that “poor diet is responsible for more disease and death than physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined.”
It’s concerning for the average person that our elected representative, a supposed “expert”, is not delivering an accurate message.
Food and cigarette manufacturers have a responsibility to sell more of their products, not to look after our health. Helping the general public to make informed choices requires good and accurate information to be readily available. There must also be a range of choices, not just different brands. Dr Malhotra believes that we need to target the three As for sugar, in the same manner as was done for tobacco: Availability, Affordability, and Acceptability.
Cigarettes are now harder to purchase as they are stored out of view, and their sale is restricted by law to people over the age of 18. Could a similar strategy work for products with added sugar?
The tobacco tax is pushing the price of a packet of cigarettes out of reach of many, especially young people. What sort of tax might be needed to make products with added sugar expensive enough that those with the highest intake notice the financial difference and question their consumption?
Cigarettes now have graphic warnings on their labels, making them less acceptable. Film maker Damon Gameau, of That Sugar Film fame, has suggested that food and drink packaging needs the sugar content represented in teaspoons. Actually seeing 9 or 10 teaspoons pictured on a soft drink can may well help to make these drinks less acceptable, especially to parents concerned about the health of their children.
Whether or not the government decides to introduce a sugar tax, we should all take responsibility and work to reduce our consumption. Our health and our future depends on it.