Public health body renews call for sugar tax and food policy

Renewed drive for fresh food prompted by data showing a significant amount of chronic disease is caused by poor diet

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s latest report reveals 31% of the burden of disease is preventable if risk factors such as diet, tobacco use, alcohol use and physical inactivity are addressed.

According to the institute’s findings, poor diet is worse than previously thought, says the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).

“Poor diet is significantly impacting disease burden in Australia,” explains PHAA CEO, Michael Moore.

“Diet alone accounts for 7.2% of the burden of disease, and it’s no surprise really that diet is such a significant contributor to chronic disease with so few Australians eating according to the recommendation of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.”

According to Moore, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found only 4% of Australians eat enough fruit, vegetables, grains, lean meats and dairy foods.

Meanwhile sugary foods are making up too much of the average Australian’s diet, with one-third of daily energy intake coming from discretionary food and drinks, according to the ABS findings.

Discretionary foods and drinks are items that do not provide nutrients the body needs; are usually high in saturated fats, sugars, salt and/or alcohol; and are described as energy dense.

“Household expenditure research by the ABS in 2014 confirms the findings that over half (58%) of consumer spending was on discretionary foods with only 15% on healthy foods such as on fruit and vegetables,” says Moore.

PHAA continues to push for strategies that protect public health by improving diet, says Moore, including:

  • A sugar tax on soft drink with the income generated from the levy invested in public health initiatives promoting healthy foods for disadvantaged groups
  • Additional support for the Health Star Rating system on packaged foods
  • Coordination with a comprehensive National Food and Nutrition Policy

“There is an urgent need to address Australia’s diet to curb preventable disease,” says Moore.

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