Recovering (some) Community Costs of Obesity

Obesity costs Australian taxpayers more than $5.3 billion a year. Obese people are more likely to go to doctors and be admitted to hospital more often than other people. They are also more likely to be unemployed and therefore paying less tax than the rest of the population but the costs are borne by the whole community.

A report by highly credentialed Stephen Duckett and Hal Swerissen (published by the Grattan Institute) proposes that the best option is an excise tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar, on all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks that contain added sugar.

A new tax is not a “silver bullet” solution, that would require a suite of new policies and programs. But the proposed tax would encourage healthier lifestyles.

The many countries that already have or are planning to introduce a tax on soft drinks include France, Belgium, Hungary, Finland, Chile, the UK, Ireland, South Africa and parts of the United States.

The Australian government would raise about $500 million a year.

One of the report’s key points:

  • Many factors are contributing to the rising prevalence of obesity in Australia. But the primary cause is excessive consumption of unhealthy processed food. This is, in part, driven by ‘market failures’, including consumers having a limited understanding of processed foods and behavioural factors that can limit self- control, and people not bearing the full costs of over-consumption of unhealthy foods.
External link to 76 page pdf, Grattan Institute: A Sugary Drinks Tax
External link, Authors respond to criticism in Pearls and Irritations, Is a tax on sugary drinks “bonkers”?