Preventative health report calls for junk food tax

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 9th September 2010

A new report by the University of Queensland and Deakin University has highlighted the need for preventative health, recommending a 10% junk food tax, salt limits in bread, margarine and cereals, increase alcohol tax, a ban on alcohol ads and an increased drinking age of 21.

The Assessing Cost Effectiveness of Prevention (ACE-Prevention) project is the result of five years of research, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.  It is the most comprehensive evaluation of health prevention measures ever conducted world-wide, involving input from 130 top health experts.

Led by Professor Theo Vos from the University of Queensland and Professor Rob Carter from Deakin University, the research team assessed 123 illness prevention measures to identify those which will prevent the most illness and premature deaths and those that are best value for money.

Speaking at the launch in Melbourne today, Todd Harper, CEO of Australia’s first health promotion organisation, VicHealth, said: “Public health currently receives only 2 per cent of the health budget.  Governments must place greater importance on proven prevention strategies to avoid the massive rise in preventable illnesses in the next few decades.”

The Obesity Policy Coalition supported the report’s recommendation of a junk food tax, but only if it was implemented in concert with subsidies to reduce the cost of healthy foods.

“It’s not enough just to increase the price of junk foods, you need to cut the price of healthy foods to make them more affordable. At the moment it is cheaper to buy two litres of soft drink than to buy a bottle of water. We need to create financial incentives for people to make healthier choices. We need to make the healthy options the cheap, affordable options,” said Senior Policy Adviser for the Obesity Policy Coalition Jane Martin.

“A phased approach to taxation could start with a tax on foods that contribute most to overweight and obesity, such as sugary soft drinks. This could have a significant impact on the weight and health of children and enable evaluation of the impact of taxing unhealthy foods in Australia,” said Martin.

“This approach could also require that the taxes collected are spent on reducing the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods for children and families in need.”

Several countries have implemented taxes on junk food or particular items such as soft drink. In the US, 33 states levy taxes on soft drinks; Taiwan is introducing a tax on junk food; and Denmark taxes some high fat and sugar foods.

Martin said that a similar assessment of the cost-effectiveness of junk food advertising on children and young people also found that this was a very valuable intervention.

“Banning junk food advertising, improving labelling and creating price incentives for people to eat better are effective ways to ensure healthy choices are the easy choices,” she said.