WHEN the concept of a sugar tax was first aired in Australia last year, Barnaby Joyce called the plan “bonkers mad”.
The inflammatory nature of the Deputy Prime Minister's words was inappropriate for the important debate surrounding sugar and public health issues such as diabetes and obesity.
The facts on sugar consumption and associated health problems are difficult to ignore. Australians consume on average 14 teaspoons of sugar a day, more than double the World Health Organisation's recommended levels for a healthy diet.
Almost all of Australia's major health and medical organisations have linked high sugar consumption to increasing rates of obesity and diabetes.
All up, according to research from the Grattan Institute, obesity costs taxpayers about $5.3 billion a year in lost income tax, increased medical care and welfare.
According to federal government data, the prevalence of diabetes has more than trebled in the adult population in the past 25 years.
Amid calls for greater taxes on what is a harmful product, and stricter controls on advertising that targets children, Mr Joyce, leader of the Nationals, chose to deride those who seek change.
It is becoming increasingly evident that high sugar consumption is having a social, medical and economic impact on the country, particularly for our children.
Almost half of all children aged between two and 16 consume a juice or soft drink sweetened with sugar every single day. Our childhood obesity rates are among the highest in the world.
It would be incorrect – indeed naive – to believe that the implementation of a sugar tax would solve all of Australia’s issues with obesity and diabetes. Education, personal choice and willpower will always be key drivers of improving one’s health.
But a tax on sugar should be thoroughly investigated and sensibly debated, as should greater curbs on junk food advertising that targets children.
A sugar tax would raise $500 million a year, which could be used to increase the $60 million a year the federal government already spends on anti-obesity programs.
We have seen how taxes on tobacco have reduced health-related issues associated with smoking. We need due consideration of whether a tax on sugar could have similar success in other areas of public health.