The Deputy Prime Minister rubbished calls for a tax on sugary drinks, saying people should simply “stop eating so much and do a bit of exercise”.
New England MP Barnaby Joyce and his National party colleagues dismissed the recommendation, but the idea has broad public support, including a local woman who gave up sugar for the health benefits.
Gunnedah mum Emma Jones cut sugar out of her family’s diet, and while she doesn’t follow politics, she would definitely support a tax on sugary food and drink.
“The end of every shopping aisle is full of sugary items like fizzy drink and cereals, and they are always on special,” Ms Jones said.
“They are so cheap compared to the healthy options.”
[Sugary products] are so cheap compared to the healthy options.Sugar-free mum, Emma Jones
With many families shopping on a budget, Ms Jones said there was a natural tendency to go for the cheaper choice.
“If we bring sugary prices up and make them the same price as the healthy option, most families will choose the healthy product,” she said.
“Charging a little bit more for sugary products, it might encourage people to get a bottle of natural apple juice rather than a bottle of Coke.”
The Jones family gradually reduced the sugar in their diet until they were completely off it.
“The first two weeks you crave sugar, but we would eat grapes or a piece of fruit instead,” Ms Jones said.
“Now we are eating more wholesome food, so we are eating less but filling up more.”
Tamworth dietitian Leanne Brown said it was important for the government to implement population-wide health strategies.
“There is too much temptation, too many options and too many things that make it difficult to follow through with better diet and activity,” Dr Brown said.
“We need multiple strategies, from individual strategies to population strategies.”
Dr Brown, who also heads up the University of Newcastle’s department of rural health, said research showed sugar had addictive qualities, and without motivation it would be hard for many people to consume less.
“People need support and other strategies to make good choice to change their behaviour,” she said.
While the sugary drink tax was not the silver bullet to beat obesity, Dr Brown said it shouldn’t be dismissed.
“Research shows sugary drinks are a problem,” she said.
Mr Joyce said the “moralistic tax” would cause “massive problems” for the sugar industry in northern NSW and Queensland.
“This is one of these suggestions right from the start we always thought was just bonkers mad,” he said. “The National Party will not be supporting a sugar tax.”