In mid March of this year I woke up to a shock announcement from the UK that they would be implementing a sugary drinks tax in 2018. It was only a shock because I have developed quite an interest in this particular topic since writing and researching my first feature documentary, That Sugar Film.

There have been many strange and wonderful happenings in the year of releasing the film around the world. Appearing on the Dr Oz show in the US to 25 million Americans in a room full of frenzied, foot stomping women was certainly one but two UK Parliamentary screenings was also high up on the list. The first of which I could only attend via Skype from my lounge room in Melbourne at 330am. And while my top half was dignified in appearance with a collar and jacket; surely I am the first person in history to address UK Parliament in my underpants? Tick.

 The news of a tax was a real surprise. I don’t think anyone particularly likes the word ‘tax’, especially it seems McDonalds, Sanitarium or the CEO of Cadburys, who have managed to avoid paying it while simultaneously producing foods that are contributing to the crippling health crisis. At least help to clean up your mess dudes!  But the UK tax announcement did spark important conversations in Australia that we desperately need to have. We now have 1 in 4 children overweight or obese, 91% of which are not getting enough vegetables and who are also getting 50% of their daily energy intake from discretionary foods. And our adult health issues fair no better with1 Australian now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every 5 minutes (a disease caused by poor diet with a strong emphasis on aforementioned sugary drink). The cost of diabetes alone in this country is a staggering 14 billion dollars per year. The time for pussy footing is over.

 The strongest model of a sugar tax we currently have comes from Mexico. In just 18 months since implementing the tax they have seen sugary drink consumption drop by 17% in lower socio-economic areas and have raised a remarkable 1.8 billion dollars. I think our issues go far beyond just the implementation of a tax but what I would champion would be the setting up an independent body who’s sole job would be managing the accumulated funds and then re-allocating them directly into preventative measures like subsidising fresh fruits and vegetables in poorer regions, revamping the food system in our hospitals or improving food choices and nutrition programs in our schools and their canteens. These are high hopes I know, but the time has come for positive, long term aspirations when it comes to the nation’s health.

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However our Rural Health minister, Fiona Nash, immediately ruled out a tax. Instead she stressed personal responsibility and education. I certainly agree with the education element but do question what she has in mind. We have offered up a clearer teaspoon labelling system for added sugar and are about to launch a campaign to get the That Sugar Film School Action Kits into every school in the country (we are already at 1000). Consider this article an open invitation for the Health Minister to steal our ideas.

What we face, sadly, is an Australian Government reluctant to act. Despite two successful UK Parliamentary screenings and another in New Zealand, we were unable to get a single politician or advisor or even intern to our Australian version. Could it be that we are the 2nd biggest exporter of sugar in the world?  Or is it that sugar is just too precious an ingredient to the food industry that its a ‘hands off’ topic for politicians? After all, its cheap, it acts as a preservative in processed food and has now been proven to be addictive to a proportion of the population. A miracle ingredient when it comes to economic growth.

But as alluring and seductive as the Wonka factory is, when eaten in the amounts we are currently consuming, sugar ravages our health. The sobering truth is that this generation of children will be the first in history to live shorter lives than their parents due to poor diet. Deaths from diet related diseases now tower over cigarettes, drugs and alcohol combined.

I feature a commercial in the sugar film from the 1960s which shows Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble sitting down and enjoying a Winston cigarette. A genius marketing ploy from the tobacco giant. People always laugh at the scene and reflect on the madness. I do wonder if we will one day look back at these times and remember our Australian cricketers endorsing buckets of KFC or Beyonce spruiking Pepsi in the middle of a childhood obesity epidemic and share the same awkward giggle.

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About Damon Gameau

Damon Gameau is an Australian director, author and actor. As a director he wrote, directed and performed the vocals for the 2011 winning Tropfest short film, Animal Beatbox, which has now played at over 25 festivals world wide. In 2015 he released his first feature film ‘That Sugar Film’ which has become the highest grossing Australian documentary across Australia and New Zealand of all time. It has received awards from across the world including the AACTA Award for Best Documentary. The accompanying book, ‘That Sugar Book’ was a best seller in Australia and has since been released in over 20 countries and 8 languages around the world. Damon has a new found passion for health and ensuring the next generation understand the importance of the type of foods they put into their bodies.