WDHS CEO Rohan Fitzgerald
A south-west Victorian petition calling for a sugar tax to reduce the consumption of sweet drinks in Australia is taking on a new national direction.
The petition organised by GenR8 Change, a community driven movement that seeks to make the healthy choice the easy choice in the Southern Grampians Shire, is being expanded to a national online audience to tackle Australia’s rising rates of obesity.
It is now available at www.ssbtax.com/. The completed petition will be presented to the Federal House of Representatives at the end of March.
The petition is being supported by Western District Health Service (WDHS) and other community leaders around Hamilton. It backs the Grattan Institute’s push for a sugary drinks excise tax, levied at about 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar. Sugar is a major driver of obesity and one of the most common sources is sugar-sweetened drinks.
The proposed tax would mean a 15 cent price increase for a 370ml can of soft drink and would raise about $500 million a year. It could lead to a 15 per cent fall in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages as consumers switch to water and other drinks not subject to the tax.
WDHS CEO Rohan Fitzgerald says real change is needed to address Australia’s rising levels of obesity and to improve health and wellbeing.
“Petitioning for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks is one way we can highlight the issue and bring about change,” he said.
“We don’t see the tax as a silver bullet solution, but one of a range of measures researchers say will reduce sugary drink consumption and obesity across the country.”
An alarming 70.1 per cent of adults and up to 50 per cent of primary school children in the Southern Grampians region are estimated to be overweight or obese.
“The personal, social and economic costs of obesity are enormous and we need to urgently address what is fast becoming a national crisis,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
Mr Fitzgerald said the petition did not seek to stop people accessing sweet drinks, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks and flavoured waters.
“It’s a personal responsibility and people still have the right to choose, but we need to recognise there is a cost associated with sugar sweetened beverages for our economy and our health system,” he said.
“Money raised through the tax should be invested back into community health initiatives to promote healthier eating and lifestyle choices.”
Mr Fitzgerald said he believed a push by a small regional community could make a difference on the national stage.
“Public health services traditionally support people from a medical, surgical and acute perspective, but we can also advocate for changes to support people to live healthier lives and avoid hospitalisation.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate the economic cost of obesity to the Australian Government and taxpayers is $8.6 billion a year. Obesity is second only to tobacco smoking as the biggest public health threat facing Australia and is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Southern Grampians Mayor Cr Mary-Ann Brown said the Federal Government would set a good example by introducing a sugar tax.
“We need to get serious about tackling obesity and a sugar tax would be a good start,” she said. “A sugar tax might not solve all the problems but the evidence suggests it can make a significant difference and more research and health bodies are supporting such a tax.”
Glenelg Southern Grampians Primary Care Partnership Executive Officer Janette Lowe said obesity was a significant public health challenge locally and across Australia.
“GenR8 change is about making healthy choices easy, and at the moment it can be easier and cheaper to buy a sugar-laden soft drink than it is to buy a bottle of pure water,” Ms Lowe said.