Wagga dietitians and dentists back sugar tax idea to curb Riverina health issues

SWEETEN THE DEAL: Wagga dietitian Aiden Muir is supportive of a nationwide sugar tax on unhealthy products. Picture: Les Smith
SWEETEN THE DEAL: Wagga dietitian Aiden Muir is supportive of a nationwide sugar tax on unhealthy products. Picture: Les Smith

Wagga dietitians have backed calls for a national tax on sugar to curb high obesity rates in the Riverina.

Heart Foundation figures in November 2017 revealed the Riverina had the second highest obesity rate in Australia and highest heart admissions rate in NSW.

Sugar taxes have been long a source of national debate but recent CSU graduate and practicing dietitian Aidan Muir believes it’s an ideal step to take.

“Originally, I was quite against a sugar tax as I held a strong belief there should be no reason to harm businesses or those who include small amounts of sugar in their daily routine,” he said.

“People shouldn’t be punished for having one can of drink a day.”

Now, the 23-year-old is looking from another perspective.

“Upon reflection, it’s clear we do have a problem here in Australia and it’s even higher here in the Riverina,” Mr Muir said.

“People aren’t eating as healthily as they could be.”

Low-cost sugary products have driven popularity and high sales but Mr Muir believes a tax could level the playing field.

“You can see why people don’t always go for the healthiest options - sweet things are often more affordable,” he said.

“A tax would counteract the argument that eating healthy foods is more expensive for families.”

Fellow Wagga dietitian Peta Adams said a tax would be “a step in the right direction” but warned against focusing too heavily on one aspect of wellbeing

“With a sugar tax, I think you could put it into the same category as smoking where you begin restricting advertising and things like that,” she said.

“However, I strongly believe that only focusing on one nutrient like sugar won’t fix the overall problem.

“We need to look at promoting a healthy lifestyle in its entirety.”

Dietitians aren’t the only ones with a grudge against the sweet stuff.

Australian Dentistry Association president Hugo Sachs, who operates two Riverina practices in Cootamundra and Harden, says increased sugar consumption has sparked mass tooth decay.

“I’ve seen young people who shouldn’t have holes in their teeth getting holes,” he said.

“I’ve also had to do full mouth clearances and extract every single tooth because residents have had too much sugar.”

Dr Sachs believes international taxes on sugar have been successful and could be easily emulated.

“Countries like Mexico have done it well and I think a tax would benefit not only dental, but also complex health problems like heart disease,” he said.