19/09/2017 11:48 AM AEST | Updated 19/09/2017 11:51 AM AEST

Health Experts Call For 20 Percent Soft Drink Tax To Fight Obesity

They're hoping to tip the scales in the fight against fat.

A coalition of health groups is demanding the Federal Government put a 20 percent tax on all sugary drinks as part of a suite of measures toreduce the strain obesity and poor diets are having on the nation's health and hip pocket.

The 34 community, public health, medical and academic groups on Tuesday mounted the call for urgent Federal Government action, and released an eight stage 'Tipping the Scales' action plan led by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) and Deakin University's Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE).

The plan includes a 20 percent 'health levy' on sugary drinks, the establishment of a national obesity taskforce and the development of national diet, physical activity and weight guidelines.

Tipping the Scales eight-point action plan:

  1. Time-based restrictions on TV junk food advertising to kids;
  2. Set clear food reformulation targets;
  3. Make the Health Star Rating mandatory by July 2019;
  4. Develop a national active transport strategy;
  5. Fund weight-related public education campaigns;
  6. Introduce a 20 percent health levy on sugary drinks;
  7. Establish a national obesity taskforce;
  8. Develop and monitor national diet, physical activity and weight guidelines.

The coalition involves groups such as the Heart Foundation, Cancer Council Australia, Kidney Health Australia, Diabetes Australia and the Stroke Foundation.

OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said the eight policy areas addressed the parts of Australia's environment which set individuals and families up for unhealthy lifestyles, rather than just focusing on treating the poor health outcomes associated with obesity.

Martin said 63 percent of Australian adults and 27 percent children are overweight or obese.

"This is not surprising when you look at our environment -- our kids are bombarded with advertising for junk food, high-sugar drinks are cheaper than water, and sugar and saturated fat are hiding in so-called 'healthy' foods," Martin said.

"Making a healthy choice has never been more difficult."

The annual cost of overweight and obesity in Australia in 2011-12 was estimated to be $8.6 billion in direct and indirect costs such as GP services, hospital care, absenteeism and government subsidies, she said.

"But Australia still has no strategy to tackle our obesity problem. It just doesn't make sense," Martin said.

"Without action, the costs of obesity and poor diet to society will only continue to spiral upwards.

Professor of Epidemiology and Equity in Public Health at Deakin University, Anna Peeters, said the 34 groups behind the report not let governments simply sit back and watch as growing numbers of Australians developed life-threatening weight and diet-related health problems.

There will be approximately 1.75 million deaths in people over the age of 20 years caused by diseases linked to overweight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer heart disease, between 2011-2050, she said.

"For too long we have been sitting and waiting for obesity to somehow fix itself," Professor Peeters said.

"More than thirty leading organisations have agreed on eight priorities needed to tackle obesity in Australia. We would like to work with the Federal Government to tackle this urgent issue and integrate these actions as part of a long-term coordinated approach."

The expert advice has been slammed by Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm as "just another excuse for a tax, dressed up as a health issue".

"Nanny rummages through our fridges and shopping trolleys and, with wagging finger, tells us we need to give more money to the government for our own good," he said.

He said while Australia's growing obesity problem is a serious issue, attempts elsewhere in the world to introduce a sugar tax were ineffective.

"The simple fact is there is no accepted evidence that sugar taxes cut long-term soft drink consumption or reduce body mass index, or have any marked effect on rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease," he said.

"The only thing that will get smaller if we make just one unhealthy product more expensive is the hip pocket, and those on low incomes will be hardest hit."