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Sugary drink tax isn't the answer, says expert

Taxing sugar in soft drinks is not the answer to our nation’s rising rates of obesity and diabetes, according to metabolism expert Assistant Professor Dr Hayley O’Neill.

She said rather than support a parliamentary report recommending sugary drinks be taxed to help ease the upward trajectory of obesity, she has called for a ban altogether.

Photo of Hayley O'Neill
Assistant Professor Dr Hayley O'Neill

Diabetes Australia indicates more than 300 Australians develop diabetes every day - one every five minutes. 

Dr O’Neill, an expert in metabolism and obesity research at Bond University said “It would be better to ban sugar in drinks altogether or reduce the amount of sugar that is allowed in beverages,” she said.  

“I feel that whilst it may help initially, consumers will just find another way, like buying sugar flavoured sachets to add to bottled water, or something creative like this will then become available.

“A classic example is the ban on smoking. Now a lot of young people are vaping.”

She said our busy lives and easy accessibility to “ready-to-go meals” have also significantly contributed to our poor diets and dwindling heath. 

“High consumption of ultra processed foods, including fast foods and takeaway to support busy lives, are contributing to obesity and chronic disease.

“It’s understandable that we reach for the easiest options but ultimately this is hurting us and having long lasting impacts on our health and our healthcare system.”

A typical western diet in Australia, for example, is typically high in refined carbs, “sugar” and fat, and low in dietary fibre said Dr O’Neill. 

“Reaching for a sugary beverage or snack may provide an immediate boost in energy, but often provides empty calories with little nutritional value. 

“In fact, research tells us that the sugar rush is short-lived leading to a sugar crash that is associated with reduced alertness and increased fatigue. 

“A diet high in sugar has also been associated with gut inflammation, which can have impacts on metabolism, appetite, mood and immunity. Poor gut health is also linked to a number of chronic diseases. 

“So, swapping our high sugar snacks, including beverages, for fibre-rich foods will not only ensure your gut is in tip top shape, but it will also lower chronic disease by helping with better blood sugar and hunger control and better weight management.”

According to Dr O’Neill the issue around our poor diets is complex and needs a multifaceted approach. 

“It’s not an easy fix or one size fits all solution.

“People need to be educated about why sugar is so bad in terms of contribution to weight gain, chronic disease and gut issues.” 

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