Is a ‘fat tax’ the answer to Australia’s obesity crisis?

Australia needs a tax on unhealthy foods that covers more than just fat content. Flickr/ms Tea

Australia should follow the lead of Denmark and consider taxing foods high in saturated fats to curb the nation’s growing obesity problem, Greens leader Bob Brown said at yesterday’s tax forum.

This week Denmark added an additional tax on foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fats, which includes butter, meat, milk, cheese, oil and processed foods.

So does Australia need a tax on fat? And how would it work? Dr Gary Sacks, Research Fellow at Deakin University’s Faculty of Health, has modelled options for taxes on unhealthy foods and shares his thoughts:

Obesity is a growing problem in Australia, with two out of three adults classified as overweight or obese. This increases their risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The key drivers of obesity are around the food supply, particularly the increasing supply of cheap, tasty, high-calorie foods.

It’s clear that the obesity crisis needs to be urgently addressed – and increasing the price of unhealthy foods is one way to discourage consumers from favouring poor nutritional choices.

Denmark is taxing foods such as butter, cheese, milk, meat and oil – should Australia take a similar approach?

If we want a tax that’s going to be effective in reducing obesity in the longer term, we need a broader approach to taxing unhealthy foods rather than just measuring the fat content.

We need to consider the salt, sugar and fat content, along with an assessment of the benefits of nutrients such as fibre, and fruit and vegetable content.

Put all of this information together and you’ll get an assessment of the overall healthiness of the food. A tax should be applied on this basis, not just the saturated fat content.

A tax on unhealthy foods needs to go beyond just saturated fats. Flickr/Mailloux