Adding 40c per 100g of sugar to the cost of drinks could also stop thousands of cases of heart disease a year.
Australian public health groups are in Canberra today calling for a 20% health levy on sugary drinks.
The tax, which has long been supported by the AMA, would involve a $0.40 tax per 100g sugar (per unit of product) on all non-alcoholic drinks containing free sugars, apart from 100% fruit juice, milk-based and cordial drinks.
“This rate was chosen with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation in mind – that a tax would need to raise the retail price of sugary drinks by at least 20% in order to have a meaningful health effect,” said the AMA.
“The focus is on drinks that provide no nutritional benefit.”
The Rethink Sugary Drink alliance – which includes the AMA, Cancer Council Australia, Heart Foundation, Food for Health Alliance and the Australian Dental Assocation – have introduced new research to back their cause that showed that the policy may reduce annual sugar intake by 2.6kg per person.
The research, undertaken by the AMA, suggested that the policy could also raise an estimated $1 billion a year, “reducing pressure on our stretched health system”, said AMA President Professor Steve Robson.
“This policy really is a no-brainer – it would raise vital funds for preventive health and protect Australians’ health by decreasing the risk of diseases linked to excess weight like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers,” Professor Robson said.
“Research also shows there could be 4400 fewer cases of heart disease, 16,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, and 1100 fewer strokes over 25 years if government takes this step.”
In the long run, the policy could also improve health equity and dental health, said Australian Dental Association federal board director Dr Angie Nilsson.
“We know that just one 600mL bottle of soft drink can pack a shocking 16 teaspoons of sugar and is highly acidic,” said Dr Nilsson.
“Frequently gulping down sugary drinks can increase the risk of issues including tooth decay, sensitivity and erosion.”
She said the greatest dental health benefits were likely to be experienced by Australians from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
The policy would also benefit the heart health of Australians, said the Heart Foundation’s national manager of public and local affairs Peter Thomas.
“Healthier diets are key to reducing risk of heart disease, Australia’s number one killer,” he said.
“With sugary drinks currently the biggest source of sugar in our diets, a 20% health levy on companies who manufacture these products is urgently needed to protect our nation’s heart health.”
According to Food for Health Alliance’s executive manager Jane Martin, support for the levy is strong among Australians, with reseach showing that 77% would aupport a health levy on drinks, as long as funds were reinvested into obesity prevention.
“Between this support and undeniable health and economic gains, what are we waiting for?” she said.
Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Tanya Buchanan agreed that it was too late to wait.
“The Australian government must put the community first, following in the footsteps of more than 100 countries and jurisdictions that already have a health levy on sugary drinks,” she said.
“Importantly, we know a health levy encourages manufacturers to reformulate their drink products to contain less sugar, resulting in healthier beverages and better health outcomes.”