Proposals to introduce a sugar tax to address obesity and other chronic health problems like diabetes are a "last century solution to a modern-day problem", the Australian Beverages Council says.
Given sugar-sweetened drinks offer "no nutritional value", organisations including Diabetes Australia, the Cancer Council, the Heart Foundation, Stroke Foundation and Kidney Health Australia have all previously called for these products to attract a tax - or health levy - in a bid to raise "hundreds of millions of dollars" a year to fund prevention programs.
Experts discuss type 2 diabetes on the Voice of Real Australia podcast
But the chief of the Australian Beverages Council, Geoff Parker, says this tax would not only hurt households, but have little impact on the rates of obesity and diabetes.
"This type of discriminatory and regressive tax lacks any evidence from anywhere in the world in providing public health benefits," he said.
"Countries that have introduced similar taxes have failed to see a meaningful impact on obesity and diabetes rates, and many have repealed them - including Denmark, Norway and other Nordic countries.
"Residents in the UK also aren't getting thinner or lowering the incidence of diabetes since the UK's sugar tax, and prevalence rates of obesity in Mexico have increased since they introduced their tax.
"This lack of real-life evidence is one of the reasons the federal government doesn't support a tax on households, particularly at a time when many families are facing extreme hardship because of the economic impacts of the pandemic."
Mr Parker said calls for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks also ignored recent peer-reviewed research in the journal Nutrients that showed that over a 20-year period, Australians were drinking 30 per cent less sugar as they shifted to low or no-sugar beverages like sparkling and plain water.
"In fact, since 2015 sales of low/no sugar drinks have exceeded those of regular sugar drinks and the gap continues to widen," he said.
The industry's "sugar reduction pledge", launched in June 2018, was a commitment by the nation's largest drink companies to reduce sugar across their portfolio by 20 per cent by 2025 - a goal he said the industry was already on the way to exceeding.
"This is the first time an industry has united to reduce sugar and shows the drinks industry is stepping up to play its part and is ahead of the rest of the items in the shopping trolley in being responsive and responsible," Mr Parker said.
"The drinks industry encourages other sectors of the food supply to also step up and launch their own pledges and play their part in addressing a complex, multi-factorial problem like obesity and diabetes."
Professor Greg Johnson, formerly of Diabetes Australia, said while taxing sugar across the whole food chain was "more complex", a sugar-sweetened beverage tax would have a high level of public and community support, and would be relatively easy to do.
"It could raise hundreds of millions a year, and that money could be well spent on prevention programs for a range of different health concerns," he said.
"Fundamentally, what we have to do is have a healthier food supply. Too much of our food supply - all the foods that are accessible and bought by Australians every day - is processed food with too much added fat, added sugar and added salt.
"It's not just about sugar. For diabetes, it's about all three."
In NSW, sugary drinks have been phased out of vending machines, cafes and catering services in the state's health facilities as the government attempts to reduce obesity rates.
The sale of sugary drinks was also recently banned in public hospitals in Western Australia.
Professor Johnson said more attention needed to be paid to the promotion of junk foods that were "cheap, well-marketed and over-consumed" - especially to children.
"Instead of those foods being occasional foods, they have become everyday foods. And that's a big contributor to our health problems in Australia," he said.
"We have a complex problem here that is linked to modern lifestyles.
"People's stress levels, the foods we eat, the excessive production and promotion of highly processed foods with fat, sugar and salt; the sedentary lifestyles we live in front of screens and being less physically active - all of these things are significant contributors to this pandemic of diabetes.
"A tax on sugar isn't going to do that in and of itself. There is not one solution to a big and complex problem."
Laureate Professor Clare Collins, a nutrition and dietetics professor at the University of Newcastle, would like to see the manufacturers of ultra processed junk foods do more to "prove the products are safe".
"Or just put a tax on them," she said.
"We absolutely need taxation to be a disincentive."
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