Sugary drinks tax could prevent decay and increase health equity

sugary drinks tax
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A national Australian tax on sugary drinks could prevent more than 500,000 dental cavities and increase health equity over 10 years, a Monash University-led study has found.

Published in Health Economics, the collaboration with Deakin University and the University of Melbourne found that over 10 years, a 20 per cent sugar-sweetened beverage tax (SSB) had overall cost savings of $63.5 million from a societal perspective. 

The direct healthcare savings were $42.2 million, with 510,977 decayed teeth and 98.1 disability-adjusted life years—a measure of healthy life lost through premature death or disability due to illness or injury—averted. 

Under a lifetime scenario for the current population until death, overall societal cost savings were $176.6 million, and direct healthcare savings $122.5 million, with 1,309,211 decayed teeth and 254.9 disability-adjusted life years averted. 

“Our study demonstrates a 20 per cent tax is cost-effective to prevent dental caries and is likely to increase health equity because the cost savings and health benefits occur for populations from lower socioeconomic advantage,” the authors said. 

However, convincing governments and industry to implement it was a “major barrier”. The authors concluded that advocacy efforts should be directed at the Australian government “with a health equity lens, and with industry stakeholders”. 

This study also investigated the cost-effectiveness of interventions for oral disease prevention, which can be implemented or scaled-up in Australia. It found the two major barriers to a sugar-sweetened beverage tax were lack of federal government support and industry pushback.

The new findings follow a 2019 paper published in The Lancet, ‘Oral diseases: a global public health challenge’, which concluded a radically different approach was needed to tackle the global challenge of oral diseases.

The research demonstrated that limiting the availability of dietary free sugars through legislation, such as a 20 per cent SSB tax, had a high degree of certainty as a cost-effective strategy, but the Australian context needed further investigation.

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