Push to tax sugary drinks to fight obesity

A CAMPAIGN to tackle unhealthy levels of sugar consumption is pushing for a tax on soft drinks and restrictions on advertising directed at children.

The Rethink Sugary Drinks campaign, run in conjunction with Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation, features an Australian version of a US television ad in which a man sits at a bar eating 16 sachets of sugar.

Sixteen teaspoons is the amount of sugar in a 600 millilitre bottle of soft drink. Consumed once a day, that amounts to 23 kilograms a year.

''You'd never eat 16 packs of sugar,'' the ad, from the New York City Department of Health, says, ''Why would you drink 16 packs of sugar?''

One in four Australian children is overweight or obese and health organisations say sugar-sweetened beverages are partly to blame, with 25 per cent of two to 16-year-olds consuming sugary soft drinks daily.

''You are really just getting a vehicle for the delivery of sugar without any nutritional benefit whatsoever,'' said Craig Sinclair, chairman of the public health committee at Cancer Council Australia.

Mr Sinclair said there was ''something inherently not right'' in having Coca-Cola and Powerade sponsor events like school rugby and junior soccer, and it was a matter of time before tobacco-style bans on direct marketing to children were introduced for unhealthy food.

During his university days the drink of choice for Craig Padayachee was Solo, which contains 81 per cent of the recommended daily sugar intake in each 600-millilitre bottle.

The 27-year-old Heart Foundation IT administrator regularly drank three 375-millilitre cans a day at his friend's internet cafe and said he soon began feeling the effects.

''My activity level dropped off quite a bit. I had pretty much no energy,'' Mr Padayachee said.

A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health and Ageing said unlike healthier food, items like confectionery and soft drinks were subject to GST, but the Henry tax review had not recommended increasing tax on less healthy products.

New dietary guidelines from the National Health and Medical Research Council due in February include a recommendation to ''limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars. In particular, limit sugar-sweetened drinks.'' In Victoria, Education Department policy on school canteens directs providers not to supply soft drinks with high sugar content.

This week in the US, Coca-Cola released an ad boasting that 180 of its 650 drinks contain few or no calories.

A spokeswoman from Coca-Cola Amatil in Australia said the company was evaluating the US campaign ''and its relevance for the local market'', adding it was the first beverage company with nutritional information on the front of its labels and, ''in line with our long-standing global policy'', did not market to children under 12.

Australian Beverages Council chief executive Geoff Parker said whether 16 teaspoons of sugar per bottle was unhealthy depended on the consumer.

''It's no surprise that young adult males are the people that consume full-sugar varieties the most,'' he said. ''They are the young tradies, the apprentices, out there with physically active lifestyles. No one food or drink causes obesity.''

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