Professor: Tax junk food to fight childhood obesity

WITHOUT a tax on junk food, Aussie kids are at risk of becoming the fattest in the world, the nation's leading health activists have warned.

The passage of a historic tax in Mexico on Friday, made global news and University of Melbourne Professor Rob Moodie said it should serve as a turning point in Australia's fight against child hood obesity.

The lobbyist from the School of Global and Population Health has spent the past four years calling for tougher regulations, banning saturation advertising, the sponsorship of sporting events by junk food giants and clearer nutrition labelling.

While small steps have been made, Prof Moodie believes it's time Australia faced a shameful truth - when you need to take health cues from a country as disadvantaged as Mexico, change is not happening fast enough.

Mexico's social issues are much of the reason why the nation recently surpassed the US as the most obese in the world.

Prof Moodie said there was no doubt junk food was almost always cheaper than the healthier option, a factor that was just as much of a problem within families of low socioeconomic status in Australia.

But, he was confident that with the right education, Australia could still learn from a country which was, in almost every case, relatively poorer.

Under the changes in Mexico, which passed through the Lower House on Friday and were expected to be approved by the senate next week, a 1 peso (8 US cents) per litre tax will apply to soft drinks and a 5% excise tax will be placed on high-calorie packaged foods including potato chips, peanut butter and sweetened breakfast cereals.

A similar tax on soft drinks is currently being debated in UK Parliament.

Research from the University recently showed Australian kids consumed twice as much soft drink per population when compared with the UK.

Prof Moodie believes that if a tax was introduced in Australia, it would be up to twice as effective and significantly reduce the burden on the nation's health system.

He wants the Australian Government to "start to seriously look at" the value of tax - step one would be removing big business with a conflict of interest from the policy table - but stresses it's not just a political problem.

"Childhood obesity begins with parents," he said "We need to reshape out children's dietary habits at home and at a government level...right now it's something we are doing very poorly."