DEBATE: Should there be a fat tax?

Caitlin Chang


“The revenue gained from the tax could be used to subsidise fresh food”
WH fitness expert Michelle Bridges Celebrity fitness trainer, author and creator of the 12-week Body Transformation program

“This legislation is not a ‘fat tax’, but a tax on products that use saturated fats in the process of manufacturing. Taxes like this run the risk of not achieving a great deal except raising revenue, but like the war on tobacco, it’s the responsibility of the government to protect the community.

Governments are recognising that the cost of unhealthy eating habits is taking its toll both at a human level, and importantly for them, at a financial cost to the community. That cost is significant.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2008 the total annual cost of obesity in Australia – including health system costs, productivity declines and carers’ costs – was estimated at around $58 billion. Huge.

We respond when food prices go up (under this legislation a fast food burger would go up by around 40 cents). When bananas went up, people stopped buying them. So there’s a chance a fat tax could make a difference to people’s spending habits, but more importantly, the revenue gained from the tax could be used to subsidise fresh food, reducing the imbalance between fresh and junk food prices.

It’s not about ‘fat-bashing’ or ‘body bullies’. This is about your health, your wellbeing.

And it serves as the opening broadside by a government against an unhealthy food industry that to my mind is not before its time. This kind of legislation falls into the category of building a fence at the top of the cliff rather than having an ambulance at the bottom.”


“A comprehensive set of actions is needed in Australia – not just a tax”
Dr Christina Pollard Accredited practising dietitian and co-convenor of the Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group, Public Health Association of Australia

“It’s going to take more than a tax. We need a paradigm shift – to make junk food the harder choice by cutting advertising and promotion, changing food labels, adding price incentives for healthier foods, showing kilojoules on alcohol and funding nutrition education campaigns.

Chronic dietary diseases like cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease are crippling the health system. Almost two thirds of adults and one quarter of children are overweight, making obesity both a commercial success for the food industry and a devastating failure for society.

Rather than just using taxes to fight obesity, we should focus on making food labels less confusing. The ‘daily intake guide’ (DIG), is too complicated. Instead, the industry could interpret nutritional information with colour-coded traffic lights on food packages. At a glance you’d be able to tell which foods you should eat more, be cautious of or cut down on.

Obesity is preventable – and environmental measures help. In North Karelia in Finland, the government introduced subsidies that reduced whole fat milk production by half, and they increased low-fat dairy consumption. The project began in 1972 and by 2006 mortality rates from heart disease reduced by 85 per cent.

A comprehensive set of actions is needed in Australia – not just a tax. Making lifestyle changes is hard but having tighter regulation will help you make dietary changes without having to think about it.”


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