Why a Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax is no Silver Bullet to Reduce Obesity in Australia

Jason Selman,

Published on: 2021-02-16


Background: Much of the world’s population is overweight and obese as a result of increased energy consumption and reduced energy expenditure. Approximately 2/3 of the Australian population is overweight or obese. It is thought that much of the excess energy intake in Australia is a result of the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB). Health officials and public health advocates in Australia recommend the introduction of a tax on SSB to reduce sugar consumption and therefore reduce overweight and obesity in Australia.

Aim: To examine the merit of implementing a tax on SSB in Australia to reduce overweight and obesity.

Methods: A review of available literature on the international experience of implementing SSB taxation; and a review of the implementation of similar taxes to reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption internationally and in Australia.

Results: Results internationally demonstrate a decrease in SSB consumption, but only a small decrease in overall energy consumed. As yet, there is no evidence that reduced SSB consumption leads to a reduction in the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Consumer behaviours such as brand loyalty, substitution for cheaper or generic brands, and substitution of other sources of energy (such as fruit juices) diminish SSB taxation effectiveness.

Conclusion: While introduction of a tax on SSB in Australia will likely reduce SSB consumption, other strategies such as sugar reduction in SSB through reformulation, restriction of sales, better information and education, and clear warning labels on packaging have also been shown to be effective to curb SSB consumption.

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