In September, a group of 34 Australian leading health organisations got together to propose a series of changes to the federal government in an action plan called “Tipping the Scales.” The plan aims to tackle the country’s obesity problem. One of the major points of the plan is to create a 20 percent health levy on sugary drinks.

Quickly becoming known around Australia as the “sugar tax,” this proposal has seen a huge amount of support. Chief among them is the backing of the head of the New South Wales (NSW) Australian Medical Association (AMA), Professor Brad Frankum.

What is the “sugar tax”?

The “sugar tax” is a proposal for a 20 percent health levy on sugary drinks in Australia. It is just one point in an eight-point action plan called “Tipping the Scales,” set out by a body of more than 30 leading groups that are invested in tackling the country’s obesity problem.

According to the report, 63 percent of adults and 27 percent of Australian children are already overweight or obese, which costs the country as much as $8.6 billion dollars every year.

“63 percent of adults and 27 percent of Australian children are already overweight or obese.”

As well as a levy on sweet drinks, the plan includes steps such as setting up an obesity taskforce, creating time-based restrictions on junk food advertisements to kids on TV and funding weight-related public education programs.

This proposal is not the first stirrings of such a sugar tax, as a Grattan Institute report from 2016 suggested a 40 percent tax, claiming it would trigger a 15 percent drop in drink consumption and help fight obesity.

Why the head of NSW AMA is backing the tax

Shortly after the plan was announced, Professor Brad Frankum publicly spoke out to add his support to the sugar tax plan.

He said that obesity is now a bigger threat than tobacco and that even though there has been plenty of investment in warning against tobacco use, there isn’t the same push from Federal Government about this new health crisis.

“A tax on sugary drinks would send a clear message to people that products affected are not good for them,” he said.

He added that while a sugar tax is a great step, we also need to look at additional options to address this complex issue.

“We need to be looking at ways of creating better urban spaces that encourage physical activity and use of public transport, on top of improving people’s health literacy and knowledge about diet and exercise,” he explained.

Dental decay is a leading health issue in Australia and could be improved with an effective sugar tax on drinks.

How a sugar tax could impact dental health in Australia

A levy on sugary drinks could certainly be a step in the right direction in terms of obesity and overall health but also a huge boon for Australians in terms of dental health as well.

Sugar is an undisputed factor in tooth decay, as it promotes the growth of bacteria and leads to cavities and gum disease. In 2016, a survey looked at data from more than 24,000 children all over Australia and found that as many as one in four had untreated tooth decay.1

Studies from the Australian Dental Association have called tooth decay the number one prevalent health problem in the country, stating that there are 11 million newly decayed teeth every year and that 90 percent of dental disease is preventable.2

Leading dental groups and experts agree that one of the main ways to prevent dental problems is to cut back on sugar intake. With a federal government plan in place to make sugary drinks less attractive, it could be an excellent incentive for lower sugar consumption, and a great first step in reducing Australia’s dental decay.

  1 Do LG and Spencer AJ. Oral health of Australian children: the National Child Oral Health Study 2012-14. Adelaide: the University of Adelaide Press. 2016. Available from: www.adansw.com.au

2 Australian Dental Association. Tooth decay – Australia’s most prevalent health condition. Media release. 2012. Available from: www.adawa.com.au