OPINION: AUSTRALIA’s problem with obesity isn’t just our weight, it’s the rising costs caused by over-consumption, which we pay, and most of the profits, which we export.
Having two in every three Queenslanders with a weight problem is a crisis and pointing the finger is not the answer. According to the Access Economics ‘Cost of Obesity’ report, Queenslanders carry a burden in rising health care costs and lost productivity (among other factors) of $11.6 billion a year.
Instead of paying just to accommodate obesity, it’s time we used our resources to fight obesity and win.
That’s why Diabetes Queensland supports a tax on soft drinks. It’s a spearhead for an eight-point attack on the sources of chronic disease that damage our health, burden our hospitals and cost so much.
As it was for smoking, fighting these destructive forces will reduce illness and help relieve our health system of its biggest burden. A soft drink tax will send a clear message to consumers, save you money and improve community health at the same time.
That’s not just because you could easily avoid the tax by avoiding soft drink, but because fewer of your friends and neighbours would be in hospital from a lifetime of drinking it.
A soft drink tax will send a clear message to consumers, save you money and improve community health at the same time.
The prime target for the overseas corporations that dominate soft drink sales is boys aged 14 to 18, who drink (on average) 1.2 cans of soft drink a day.
Already one in four Queensland children is overweight or obese and facing an adult life in which type 2 diabetes is an expectation. According to Health Minister Cameron Dick we are on track to have 300,000 obese children by 2026.
For soft drink companies, the profits are so massive that one brand operates two formula one car racing teams as promotional flagships. Thirty years ago, this same sporting genre was a wall-to-wall billboard for cigarettes.
These are formidable opponents.
Taxing soft drink in Australia would divert just a small part of the massive profits earned by overseas corporations to measures that fight the trend to obesity.
Instead of paying for formula one teams in Europe, for example, just a small portion could be diverted to revitalise school sport in Queensland.
Alternatively, if we insist on doing little, or looking for someone to blame, we can keep paying tens of billions in extra tax dollars every year to cover the health and economic bills and sit back and watch rates of chronic disease just get worse.
Today, Diabetes Queensland leads ‘My health for life’, a $27 million Queensland Government program that identifies those at risk of chronic disease and supports lifestyle changes built around weight loss.
Another recent initiative was the state decision to fund bariatric weight loss surgery for morbidly obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Overseas, the UK National Health Service has trialed an endoscopic procedure in pursuit of comparable outcomes.
We must find and fund other, similarly effective ways to make our society healthier.
This is our eight-part strategy:
- Restrict TV ads selling junk food to kids.
- Reformulate foods to be more healthy.
- Place star ratings on all packaged foods.
- Encourage walking, cycling and public transport.
- A 20 percent soft drink tax.
- A national obesity taskforce to guide efforts and report progress.
- Regularly update, adjust and monitor healthy eating guidelines.
Doing nothing has a deadly price. There’s too much at stake to give way to apathy.
- Michelle Trute is the chief executive officer of Diabetes Queensland