The Australian Senate’s Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic has tabled a report with 22 recommendations including the need for a government tax on sugary drinks, mandated Health Star Ratings on food packaging and a ban on junk food ads on television until 9.00pm.
Nothing short of these measures will be effective in helping reduce Australia’s alarming obesity rates - 63 per cent of adults and 27 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 are overweight or obese - according to the multi-party committee, chaired by GP and Greens leader Dr Richard Di Natale.
The Senate Committee recommended the government begin to tax sugar-sweetened beverages in order to reduce sugar consumption, improve public health and push manufacturers to reformulate their products.
It noted that the WHO recommended that all governments tax sugary drinks, with over 30 global jurisdictions already introducing such a tax. The committee urged the Australian government to find the best fiscal model to achieve a price increase of at least 20 per cent, the figure demanded by the Cancer Council.
The Committee advocated the establishing of a National Obesity Taskforce comprising government, health, industry and community representatives. This would sit within the Department of Health and be responsible for a National Obesity Strategy as well as a National Childhood Obesity Strategy.
It also urged the introduction by 2020 of a Health Star Rating on foods and drinks, currently undergoing a five-year review. The present, voluntary front-of-pack labelling system has been criticised for producing questionable and confusing ratings, and being used as more of a marketing tool than a health guide for consumers.
Suggesting a conflict-of-interest, the Committee recommended the Technical Advisory Group on the rating strategy expel industry members.