Leading public health organisations back AMA’s call for sugary drinks levy

20 January 2023

The leading public health organisations engaged with  Rethink Sugary Drink are standing in solidarity with the Australian Medical Association (AMA), who has renewed its call for Australia to introduce a health levy on sugary drinks in a new report.  

AMA’s  Why tax sugary drinks?  report highlights that Australia is lagging behind 85 countries and jurisdictions across the globe that already have a health levy in place, as well as the evidence which shows the policy can effectively reduce demand for and consumption of sugary drinks. i

Craig Sinclair, Director of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, said that introducing a levy on sugary drinks can help improve Australian’s oral health and reduce obesity – a major risk factor for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. 

“Australians drink more than 2.4 billion litres of sugary drinks every year. ii  A health levy on sugary drinks could hit two birds with one stone – it sends a price signal to consumers that the product is unhealthy while encouraging manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar packed into their products,” Mr Sinclair said.

“Australian research estimates that a 20% health levy on sugary drinks would result in 16,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, 4,400 fewer cases of heart disease and 1,100 fewer cases of stroke over a 25-year period.” iii

In addition to helping prevent chronic disease and promote better oral health, evidence shows that a health levy on sugary drinks would also be supported widely by the community.

"Year on year, we see the processed food companies spend millions pushing these sugary drinks onto consumers. They prioritise their profits above the community's health.”

"Yet we know more than 3 in 4 people (77%) would support a sugary drink levy if funds raised were reinvested into obesity prevention efforts,” said Mr Sinclair.

Countries that have successfully implemented the levy abroad include Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. In Mexico, a levy introduced in 2014 led to a  37% reduction in the number of sugar-sweetened beverages purchased in 2016. A levy  introduced in the UK in 2018 led to many brands reformulating the amount of added sugar in their products.

Mr Sinclair said that in the Australian context, a levy would particularly benefit teenagers and young adults, especially men, who are currently the biggest cohort of sugary drink consumers.

“Some young people consume as much as 1.5 litres of sugary drinks per day. This price-sensitive audience would be especially responsive to a levy and their health will be better off in the long-run because of it.”

"With estimates suggesting that a 20% health levy could generate $814 million annually, there are clear health and economic benefits that we can no longer ignore.”

"It's a win-win. Government must take action now to protect the health of all Australians."

Rethink Sugary Drink is a partnership between 20 leading public health organisations across Australia, including Cancer Council Victoria and the Australian Medical Association, who are all committed to tackling the overconsumption of sugary drinks. 

Visit  www.rethinksugarydrink.org.au for more information as well as facts, tips and resources to help you or someone you know cut back on their sugar consumption.

i. Sugary drinks include all non-alcoholic water-based beverages with added sugar such as soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and cordial.

ii. Australian Medical Association (2021). A tax on sugar sweetened beverages: Modelled impacts on sugar consumption and government revenue. Retrieved from:  www.ama.com.au/articles/tax-sugar-sweetened-beverages-what-modelling-shows-0

iii. Veerman JL, Sacks G, Antonopoulos N, Martin J (2016). The Impact of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on Health and Health Care Costs: A Modelling Study. Retrieved from:  https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0151460