Government won’t budge on AMA call for sugar tax

Health minister Greg Hunt has rejected doctors’ calls for a sugar tax to curb rising rates of obesity and diabetes, saying the emphasis instead should be on encouraging children to eat more cheap veggies.

In a new position statement, the AMA says a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages should be introduced as a matter of priority.

It also calls for a ban on advertising and marketing of junk food and sugary drinks to children.

Releasing the AMA Position Statement on Nutrition 2018, AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, said the AMA was alarmed by the continued, targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.

“Children are easily influenced, and this marketing – which takes place across all media platforms, from radio and television to online, social media, and apps – undermines healthy food education and makes eating junk food seem normal,” he said.

“Governments should consider the full complement of measures available to them to support improved nutrition, from increased nutrition education and food literacy programs through to mandatory food fortification, price signals to influence consumption, and restrictions on food and beverage advertising to children.

“Advertising and marketing unhealthy food and drink to children should be prohibited altogether, and the loophole that allows children to be exposed to junk food and alcohol advertising during coverage of sporting events must be closed.

However Federal minister for health Greg Hunt reiterated his stance from 2017, saying he did not support a sugar tax. He noted that fresh fruit and vegetables already had a price signal to make them more ­affordable because unlike sugary drinks they did not have GST applied.

“We don’t believe ­increasing the family grocery bill at the supermarket is the answer to this challenge,” a spokesman for the minister said.

The AMA’s Position Statement also urges hospitals to use their influence on eating habits of patients and families.

“Whether people are admitted to hospital or just visiting a friend or family member, they can be very receptive to messages from doctors and other health workers about healthy eating,” Dr Gannon said.

“Hospitals and other health facilities must provide healthy food options for residents, visitors, and employees.

“Vending machines containing sugary drinks and unhealthy food options should be removed from all health care settings, and replaced with machines offering only healthy options.

“Water should be the default beverage option, including at fast food restaurants in combination meals where soft drinks are typically provided as the beverage.”

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