Editorial: Problem of sugar addiction prompts renewed call for a tax

It has been claimed sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Whether this is the case or not it has an enormous impact on our health, which is why there has been an increase in calls for a sugar tax in Australia.

The scale of the problem our love of sweets has created is huge. A report released by the federal government found almost two out of three adults were overweight or obese, as well as one in four children. It is a greater issue in rural areas, where overweight and obesity rates are generally higher than in cities. 

Overall, the health problems related to being overweight or obese have been estimated to cost $56.6billion per year. 

But sugar, the plant of which is believed to have been first domesticated in New Guinea around 10,000 years ago, is just something we cannot seem to get enough of. In a study released by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers state in animal studies sugar was found to produce more symptoms than is required to be considered an addictive substance. Also, it said from the standpoint of brain neurochemistry as well as behaviour, there was evidence of “substantial parallels and overlap” between drugs of abuse and sugar.

Another study on animals has linked sugar to trauma. Researchers found chronic consumption of sugar in rats who were not stressed produced similar changes in the hippocampus – a region of the brain important to memory and stress - as seen in the rats who were stressed but not drinking sugar. Childhood maltreatment or abuse has been associated with reduced hippocampal volume in adults. 

Recently the National Rural Health Alliance, which represents 35 national organisations working across the rural and remote health sector including the Royal Flying Doctor Service, called for a tax on sugary drinks as part of its submission to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s obesity epidemic.

“Australia has a system where the food and beverage industry broadly regulates itself. It’s time for governments to impose restrictions on advertising, impose a tax on sugary drinks so the price will rise by at least 20 per cent, and introduce tougher labelling laws,” alliance CEO Mark Diamond said in a press release.  

Mr Diamond said a range of factors contributed to greater levels of obesity in country areas including lower incomes, lower levels of education and greater distances to access healthy food.