Government-funded study in Australia investigating whether to back fat tax on McDonald's, KFC, other fast foods in bid to tackle nation's obesity epidemic

QUEENSLAND, Australia , May 20, 2013 () – A GOVERNMENT-funded study is investigating whether to back a fat tax on McDonald's, KFC and other fast foods in a bid to tackle Australia's obesity epidemic.

Despite criticism that increasing junk food prices will hit the poor, the Government's preventative health agency, ANPHA, is funding the most comprehensive study ever into the potential tax change - to the tune of $463,000.

The public is being asked to give feedback on paying more for hamburgers and other fatty foods with a ``citizens' jury'' to debate next weekend whether shifting tax scales is the most efficient and equitable means of addressing the nation's weight problem.

With two-thirds of Australian adults considered overweight, research project leader Tracy Comans of Griffith University says failure to act will lead to ``catastrophic'' results for the health system.

``We need to look beyond blaming individuals and towards the structural things in our society. Are we OK with junk food being cheaper and easier to buy than good quality food?'' says Dr Comans, from the Centre for Applied Health Economics.

But critics of a fat tax, including the food industry, claim it will unfairly punish the poor and want governments to focus on promoting healthier and more active lifestyles.

The three-year project - costing $463,442 - is considering ``the cost-effectiveness and consumer acceptability of taxation strategies to reduce rates of overweight and obesity amongst children in Australia''. Fourteen members of the public will spend next weekend in Brisbane debating the merits of a fat tax and listening to health experts, GPs and food industry representatives.

A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said: ``The Commonwealth Government has already commissioned an independent review of the Australian taxation system that did not recommend the introduction of a taxation system designed to decrease the production, promotion and consumption of unhealthy food and beverage products.

``Our preferred approach is to actively educate and encourage Australians to adopt and maintain a healthy diet rather than to legislate.

``With regard to the Australian National Preventive Health Agency project, this is being funded by the ANPHA as part of their research grants.

``The ANPHA is a statuary authority which reports to all Australian health ministers and makes its own decisions of where to allocate its research money.''

Dr Comans argues that Australia cannot afford to put the issue of obesity in the too-hard basket.

``In 20 to 30 years, the consequences (of obesity) in terms of strokes, heart disease, kidney and liver failure are going to be catastrophic for our healthcare system,'' she said.

But the CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Gary Dawson, said the research project was ``a complete waste of health dollars on a discredited idea''.

Mr Dawson said Denmark had abandoned its ``fat tax'' after a year.

(c) 2013 News Limited

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