A visiting American health economist is urging Australia to consider a “sin tax” to push up the price of sugary drinks by 20 per cent.
Frank Chaloupka, in Perth for an international tobacco control conference next week, said children and low-income groups needed to be discouraged from consuming what had become a major driver of obesity.
Australia is ranked in the top 10 countries for consuming sugary drinks, and WA’s LiveLighter campaign estimates that drinking one can of soft drink a day can lead to a 6.5kg weight gain in a year.
Despite calls around the world to introduce a sugar tax, most countries have not, including Australia where two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.
The University of Illinois professor of economics has been brought to WA as Healthway’s 2015 Visiting Fellow, partly supported by the WA Health Department. Professor Chaloupka spent this week talking to government and health groups about the economic drivers of obesity, smoking, and alcohol and drug use.
He said the same argument for increased taxes on cigarettes could be applied to sugar-laden drinks. It was not just soft drinks but products such as energy drinks, sweetened juices and ready-to-go flavoured tea and coffee, he said.
“What we know from tobacco taxes is that they have reduced consumption and the number of young people taking up smoking, and in places where taxes have been applied on sweetened drinks there has been a reduction in consumption,” Professor Chaloupka said.
He said there was merit in extra taxes on junk food but it would be more difficult because the criteria for what was unhealthy or had no nutritional value would have to be determined.