10:28pm Friday 23 August 2019

Lifting the heavy burden of obesity


Professor Sharon Friel from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health in the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, says that a so-called ‘Fat Tax’ has the potential to save millions of lives and billions of dollars.

Tonight on ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas program, Professor Friel will join a panel including Associate Professor Adrian Kay from the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and Dr Geoffrey Annison from the Australian Food and Grocery Council, where they will debate the complex issues associated with taxing certain types of food.

Professor Friel said that although the panel may not agree with every aspect of a food tax, something needs to be done to reduce the levels of obesity in Australia.

“There is a large financial burden on Australia’s health and social systems as a result of the obesity crisis in Australia. Taxing foods would not only raise public revenue but it could also help reduce the medical costs associated with obesity,” said Professor Friel

“A recent Australian report found that a ten per cent tax on unhealthy food could significantly reduce the burden of disease associated with obesity.”

Professor Friel said that while a food tax could present a greater financial burden to those on low incomes compared to higher income groups, there were ways to support low income households to change consumption habits towards more healthy options.

“People in lower income households are more price sensitive than high income groups. For example, it has been found that changing the price of fruit and vegetables affects the intake of these foods among low income groups more than in their higher income counterparts,” said Professor Friel.

“One option to make a food tax a fairer tax is to provide a subsidy on healthy foods. A study in New Zealand which offered a 12.5 per cent price reduction at the supermarket checkout on healthier food options found that people bought a significantly higher quantity of healthy foods.

Professor Friel said that another way to introduce a food tax is to do it further up the food supply chain.

“Perhaps taxing ultra-processed foods at the point of production could encourage manufacturers to alter their food products, thus promoting more healthy options,” said Professor Friel.

“These tax and subsidy options are just one small part of a much broader response that is needed to create a shift in the current culture of overconsumption of highly processed foods.”

ABC Radio National will air ‘Is the fat tax a fair tax?’ tonight at 8pm on Big Ideas.

Contacts: For interviews: Sharon Friel – 02 6125 0721 / 0410 356 194 For media assistance: Martyn Pearce, ANU Media – 02 6125 5575 / 0416 249 245

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