Economics: Fat Tax

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Cosima Marriner
TWO PHOTOS: Unhealthy appetites ... many firm favourites of Australian eating would be hit by a tax on fatty foods. Photo: Tamara Voninski Couch (fried) potatoes ... obesity is on the rise in Australia. Photo: Karen Neumann The Western world is beginning to embrace measures to fight obesity but Australia is a conspicuous absentee, writes Cosima Marriner. HUNGARY has a hamburger tax, Denmark has just imposed the world's first fat tax, the US is debating a "soda tax" and now Britain is contemplating its own junk food levy. Around the world governments are slapping taxes on unhealthy food and drink in a bid to combat the alarming rise in obesity. So will Australians, among the fattest people on the planet, soon get our very own fat tax? "Governments internationally are recognising we need to take some action," says the president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Steve Hambleton. "The [Australian] government will have to come around eventually." But does the Gillard government, having just managed to push its controversial carbon tax through Parliament, have the will for such a radical step as a fat tax? Many obesity experts say no but a tax on soft drink, with the proceeds used to subsidise healthy food for people on low incomes, could emerge as a compromise. Obesity is challenging smoking as the No.1 cause of preventable death. The lifestyle disease leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. One-quarter of Australian children are now obese, costing the country nearly $60 billion. Despite the dire social and economic implications of the obesity epidemic, Australia lags behind other countries when it comes to taking the drastic action needed to fix the problem. The federal government has been relying on public education such as its "Swap it, Don't Stop it" campaign and grants for community programs such as Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden to improve our diet. Yet obesity levels continue to rise....
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