Melbourne, February 16: Australia could save $3.4 billion in healthcare costs by introducing a package of taxes on sugar, salt and saturated fat, and sugary drinks, while subsidising fruits and vegetables, University of Melbourne modelling shows.

This package would result in an additional 2.1 years of healthy life for every 100 Australians alive in 2010, according to research published today in PLOS Medicine.

The tax on sugar in foods like confectionery and ice cream would result in 1.2 additional years of healthy life per 100 alive people in 2010, researchers from the Centre for Health Policy have found.

Lead researcher Dr Linda Cobiac said taxes on salt, saturated fat, and sugary drinks contributed the remaining health gain. 

“Few other public health interventions could deliver such health gains on average across the whole population,” Dr Cobiac said.

Dr Cobiac said while many Western countries are proposing or implementing taxes to curb diet-related disease, policymakers have had little information on the cost effectiveness of combining various taxes and subsidies.

Co-author Professor Tony Blakely said the research team also experimented with different combinations of taxes and subsidies to ensure minimum financial pain to households.

“Our modelling shows Australia can achieve maximum health impact for less than one per cent extra impact on household budgets,” Dr Blakely said.

“Critics often say taxes on unhealthy food make life tougher for low socio-economic households, but we’ve demonstrated that the right structuring of incentives means the financial impact on households is negligible, while their health improves.”

Dr Blakely said while taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat generated the largest health gains, the benefits from a tax on sugary drinks alone were still substantial.

“It is a good first policy step to make, and is supported by groups such as the Medical Colleges of Australia.”

The $3.4 billion saving would apply to the remaining lifetimes of all Australians alive in 2010.

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