Parker says that nearly one in two drinks consumed are actually a non-sugar variety, compared to 30% in 1997. Consumption is also in decline, according to a report from the Austalian Bureau of Statistics.
A 10% tax on high-sugar products would be one of the least effective measures in combating obesity, ranking 14th of 17 intervention methods, adds Parker, quoting data from the research firm McKinsey Global Institute.
He says European countries, such as Denmark, have introduced and subsequently repealed a ‘fat’ tax within 18 months, due to its ineffectiveness. When implemented in Mexico, the tax only reduced dietary intake by six calories.
“Soft drinks can absolutely be enjoyed in moderation. Food and beverage consumption is a personal choice, not a revenue raiser,” he says.
National Heart Foundation of Australia’s CEO, Professor Garry Jennings, says the government must take “decisive policy action” to tackle the country’s growing obesity crisis.
That included exploring options for a “health levy” on sugar-sweetened beverages, with funds raised earmarked to health promotion.
Dr Christina Pollard, from Curtain University’s school of public health, says taxation sends a strong message to manufacturers, retailers and the general public about the health risks of certain types of foods.
“We need to make healthy food more affordable than junk food,” she says.
Deakin University’s Professor Anna Peeter says evidence from Mexico suggested that a well-designed sugary drinks tax was likely to reduce consumption of sugary drinks across the population.
“Taxes such as the one proposed by the UK are likely to have the additional benefit of promoting reformulation by the beverages industry,” she says.
“The public health consensus is that introducing a sugary drinks tax in Australia is an important piece of a comprehensive obesity prevention approach.”
Meanwhile, celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver, an outspoken campaigner against childhood obesity, posted a message on his Facebook page imploring other governments, including Australia, to follow suit.