Use sugar tax to offset costs of better foods
IF our weight was on the fire danger rating scale, the needle would now be officially pointed at "catastrophic".
After decades of defending our growing fatness and shifting the scales to accommodate a "new normal", we collectively find ourselves in a place that is not funny, no longer entertaining and not remotely healthy.
We fail to move enough and are awash with boxes and packets, delivered with TV commercials or in garish full colour. And we can't shove enough of the stuff within into our gobs.
We are dying from the excesses and artificialness, with heart disease and diabetes taking their pick of the population, costing quality of life, then taking life itself.
Health care providers have hit the wall, and on Tuesday a coalition of 34 high-profile groups including the Obesity Policy Coalition, Cancer Council, Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne and the Stroke Foundation called on the Federal Government to target obesity prevention as a national priority.
They want a ban on fast food advertising in prime viewing times, making the health star rating system compulsory on processed foods and, importantly, a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.
Sugary drinks are, of course, high-calorie, low nutrient rubbish that do no good for anyone. But under the proposal, fruit juices will not be subject to the same tax burden, even though the slightest research shows they too are just concentrated sugar in fruity wrapping.
But baby steps are better than none.
The numbers are stunning: 63 per cent of adults and 27 per cent of kids are now overweight or obese. One in three adults in Australia is now obese, where 20 years ago only one in 10 was.
We are eating ourselves to death and obesity is now the fastest-growing global mortality risk: Australia is, in that sense, not an island.
A comprehensive international study published in The Lancet this week showed that one in five deaths is caused by bad diet, with a high-calorie, low-nutrient focus killing more people than smoking.
One of the authors of the study said obesity appeared to be a side effect of development that no country had yet solved.
On Sunday, the World Health Organisation issued a dire warning: the world is getting fatter, faster than ever. For the first time in human history, the poorest nations are the fattest and the weight of the shift is killing us.
Too many have lost or abrogated personal control and need all the help they can get to prevent the costly problem further ballooning out and taking more fat, sick, dying prisoners.
The Government should be concerned and certainly involved, but taking more taxes should not be the end of that participation.
As well as joining nations such as Britain, Ireland, Belgium, France, Fiji, Mexico and South Africa in applying a sugary drink tax, it should use those funds to subsidise the cost of real, whole foods.
We lost our way when processed food such as white bread and soft drink became cheaper to buy than the real stuff such as whole milk and fresh fruit.
Obesity became the main course of the poor and convenience came with a side serve of ill-health.
Taxing sugar will help, certainly. But the money must be used to buy better health, not merely help pay for the emergency services needed to attend the catastrophe.
Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a journalism lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast.