Taxes and ban best in obesity war

A volumetric tax on alcohol, a tax on sugary drinks and a ban on junk food advertising to kids are the top three most cost-effective policies to combat obesity in Australia, according to a new report by Deakin University health economists.

The comprehensive analysis of Australia’s policy arsenal in the fight against obesity evaluated the economic credentials of a range of policies to discern the most cost-effective, affordable and implementable options.

A uniform volumetric tax on alcohol where all alcohol would be taxed at 84 cents per standard drink was found to be the most cost-effective policy. However, the report’s lead author, Senior Research Fellow Jaithri Ananthapavan says all the 16 interventions assessed, many of which are backed by leading public health groups, were found to offer good value for money.

She says the release of the ‘ACE Obesity Policy 2018’ report (shortened from Assessing Cost-Effectiveness of Obesity Prevention Policies in Australia’, is timely, with the Council of Australian Governments last month indicating it planned to work towards a national obesity strategy.

“If the government wants to make obesity prevention a key health priority, this report provides a great road map towards that goal,” she said.

Report co-author Associate Professor Gary Sacks from Deakin’s Global Obesity Centre, part of the Institute for Health Transformation, said a uniform tax on alcoholic drinks would drive down alcohol consumption, producing substantial health gains and healthcare cost savings through weight reduction and cutting alcohol-related injuries.

“Different types of alcohol are all taxed differently, but under a uniform volumetric tax all drinks would be taxed based on alcohol content, meaning a significant price increase for some products.”

Ms Ananthapavan says the report recognised that the government and private sector had to take into account a number of considerations beyond just cost-effectiveness when it came to adopting new policies, including their popularity with the public.

“But successful implementation of obesity prevention policies will ultimately require political courage and commitment.” she said.

“Australia’s current obesity epidemic has serious negative health and economic consequences. It costs society more than $12 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity, which will only be addressed through a comprehensive societal response.

“Despite the growing burden of preventable diseases, the health budget for prevention efforts is only 1.34 per cent of Australia’s health expenditure. This is considerably less than in comparable countries like Canada, the UK and New Zealand.”

The new report is available at: Assessing Cost-Effectiveness of Obesity Prevention Policies in Australia’.

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