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The obesity epidemic and sugar-sweetened beverages: a taxing time

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Government action is essential to improve diet

Obesity is a major and costly public health epidemic, and an Australian national health priority that requires urgent action. While obesity is a complex condition with many contributing factors, a relative excessive kilojoule intake is a major driver of weight gain. Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) contribute to this excess energy intake in children and adults, are linked with obesity, diabetes and dental caries, and are an increasing focus of public health attention.

The World Health Organization guidelines recommend reducing the free sugars intake in adults and children to less than 10% of the total energy intake, and to less than 5% for best health outcomes.1 Half of the Australian population, almost 75% of people aged 9–18 years and 35% of people aged 51–70 years exceed the WHO recommendation.2 In 2011–12, Australians consumed an average of 60 g of free sugars per day (equivalent to 14 teaspoons of white sugar), with 52 g (12 teaspoons) coming from added sugars consumed through energy-dense, nutrient-poor discretionary foods and beverages.2 Males aged 14–18 years averaged 92 g (21 teaspoons) of free sugars daily, with 10% consuming 160 g (38 teaspoons), equivalent to 23% of their daily energy intake.2 Over half of free sugars…