Introducing a nationwide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could result in massive health and economic benefits.
A Monash University-led study concludes that the introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Australia could prevent more than 500,000 dental cavities over a decade.
The proposed levy would also enhance health equity, according to the study conducted in collaboration with the University of Melbourne and Deakin University.
The findings, published in the journal Health Economics, showed that a 20 per cent sugar tax over the course of 10 years could deliver $63.5 million in savings. In terms of direct healthcare savings, the researchers estimate approximately $42.2 million could be saved, leading to the prevention of nearly 511,000 cavities and 98.1 disability-adjusted life years, which is a measure of healthy life years lost due to prematurely succumbing to disability or death from illness or injury.
The study found that poor oral health is very prevalent in Australia and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable. “Our study demonstrates a 20 per cent tax is cost-effective to prevent dental caries and is likely to increase health equity because the cost savings and health benefits occur for populations from lower socioeconomic advantage.”
Mr Tan Nguyen, lead author of the study, points out that sugar tax levies have proven effective in increasing prices and reducing consumption globally.
Australia is yet to implement such a tax, and Mr Nguyen concedes it may be politically difficult to get a sugar tax through parliament.
He adds that the global impact of oral disease is a considerable – but often overlooked – factor in public health policies worldwide.
“The major contributors impacting quality of life due to oral diseases are tooth decay, advanced gum disease, and severe tooth loss caused mostly by caries and gum disease,” he says.
In a first for Australia, the research used the Assessing Cost-Effectiveness (ACE) methodology – a strategy to prioritise health interventions already used in areas such as cancer, obesity, and mental health – to study the cost-effectiveness of prevention strategies for oral diseases that can be implemented or scaled-up.
It found the two significant obstacles to a sugar-sweetened beverage tax in Australia were lack of support from the federal government and industry pushback.
The findings follow calls from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) back in January for the introduction of a similar tax.
“That will mean just a 16-cent increase to the price of a regular can of fizzy drink,” the AMA says.
“But the health outcomes will be significant for individuals while reducing future burdens on the health system.”
Do you think a sugar tax is a reasonable idea? Or should you be free to consume what you want? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Also read: The sugar that could help cure cancer