03:05am Thursday 21 November 2019

A taxing time for junk food

tape measure around apple

Ms Molly Bond, PhD candidate at the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, and co-authors discuss the possibility of introducing a junk food tax in a similar fashion to tobacco and alcohol taxes.

Ms Bond said that the recent report on taxation — the Henry tax review — recommended that the federal government increase taxes already levied on tobacco and alcohol, because these are the best way to reduce social harms caused by the use and misuse of these substances. However, no similar scheme was recommended for junk food.

“In recent years, obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia,” Ms Bond said.

“More than 60 per cent of Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese.

“Evidence suggests that the obesity epidemic in Australia and around the world is predominantly the result of over-consumption of food rather than a reduction in overall physical activity.

“Curbing this over-consumption, of junk food in particular, must be a central component of any obesity prevention strategy.

“Junk foods have the same pattern of misuse and the same social costs as tobacco and alcohol.

“The Henry tax review rejects the idea of taxing fatty foods and, to date, the federal government has not implemented a tax on junk food,” Ms Bond said.

Ms Bond observed that the government’s response to the obesity epidemic has been to create a partnership between governments and industry, which will inevitably align with industry objectives rather than public health needs.

“We hope that the efforts of the public health community are not consumed in responding to government-industry initiatives that are almost certain to have no effect on the obesity epidemic.”

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

For further information about the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights, visit The Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights website.

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