07/11/2016 11:02 AM AEDT | Updated 07/11/2016 11:50 AM AEDT

Doctors Call For A Sugar Tax And Subsidies For Health Foods

The AMA wants the Turnbull Government to get serious on fighting obesity.

Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters
Australia needs to get tougher on battling obesity, the AMA says.

Australia's doctors want the federal government to step up on fighting obesity by imposing a tax on junk food and providing subsidies for fruit and vegetables.

The call for action from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) is part of a national strategy the organisation wants from the government on the issue under a "whole-of-society approach".

"The AMA strongly recommends that the national strategy include a sugar tax; stronger controls on junk food advertising, especially to children; improved nutritional literacy; healthy work environments; and more and better walking paths and cycling paths as part of smarter urban planning," AMA president Michael Gannon said on Monday.

"The whole-of-society strategy must be coordinated at a national level by the federal government and must be based on specific national goals and targets for reducing obesity and its numerous health effects."

More than 60 percent of adults are either overweight or obese, with nearly 10 percent severely obese, the AMA says.

The nationwide problem is also very concerning when it comes to Aussie kids. At least a quarter of all Australian children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

The AMA is so worried about obesity because it's a risk factor for heaps of potentially serious healthy problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and musculoskeletal diseases.

It's also a heavy weight on the nation's health care system, with obesity in 2011-12 estimated to cost $8.6 billion a year in health costs and lost productivity. The cost is likely to be even greater today given the escalating problem.

In its Position Statement on Obesity 2016, the AMA recommends a number of big moves to address the issue. In addition to a sugar tax and "subsidies for healthy foods", it wants a renewed focus on obesity prevention measures, a ban the targeted marketing of junk food to children and easy to understand nutrition labelling for packaged foods.

"Governments at all levels must employ their full range of policy, regulatory, and financial instruments to modify the behaviours and social practices that promote and sustain obesity," Gannon said.

The strong statement from the AMA comes after a UK mega-study on 4 million adults showed for the first time that an unhealthy Body Mass Index had a direct correlation with premature death.

The study published in British medical journal The Lancet found that for every lift in BMI unit after the overweight range, there was an increase in the risk of premature death by around one third.

That finding has led Australian health experts to warn that obesity may lead to the first decrease in life expectancy seen in decades.