Fat tax won't change obesity rate

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An obesity expert says that Australia’s fat problem is now so bad that a prohibitive tax on junk food has to be considered by the Govt. That’s right – willpower can no longer do the trick, so McDonald’s has to become expensive instead.

At a conference last week, the former health advisor to Kevin Rudd, a man called Professor Rob Moodie, said that Australia’s battle with the bulge could no longer be fought using conventional means.

I’ll speak with Professor Moodie in a moment, but he seems to be saying that diet and exercise aren’t working because too many Australians simply lack the willpower to reduce their weight.

As a result of this, he suggests a variety of more extreme remedies, one of which is a prohibitive tax on junk food.

Now the campaign against cigarette smoking proves that if you make something sufficiently expensive, eventually people’s consumption of it will decrease.

But could what worked with Winnie Blues be applied to, say, McDonald’s?

I have my doubts.

For start, the lack of GST on fresh food already gives it a 10% head start over the junk variety – and this hasn’t changed people’s behaviour at all.

Second, many people on low incomes eat at places like McDonald’s precisely because it is cheap. Why should we sacrifice their living standards because other people can’t exercise self control?

And third, how do you even define what junk food is? After all, while it’s easy to point the finger at the Golden Arches, would a junk food tax also be applied to bakeries, fish and chip shops and four n’twenty pies?

There’s no doubt we have an obesity problem in this country. But imposing big new taxes is rarely an effective or popular way to change people’s behaviour.

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