Why Australia should have a tax on sugar sweetened beverages

by Stephen Duckett

Submission to the Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic in Australia

Obesity costs Australian taxpayers about $5 billion every year and is associated with increased health care use, reduced workforce participation and higher sickness benefit payments.

Current policies to address the problem have been in place for decades and have failed to reduce Australia’s obesity crisis – in fact, obesity continues to increase. No one claims those policies should be abandoned but more of the same is clearly not the answer. Recent calls for a sugar tax, or more accurately a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, is one such contemporary response.

A sugar sweetened beverage tax will not ‘fix obesity’ on its own – a range of policies are needed. However, it will likely slow the current growth in rates of obesity, as well as help recover some of the cost to taxpayers from people who choose to drink sugar sweetened beverages. And in the absence of any other serious policies to shift obesity rates, it is worth considering, despite industry protestations.