This Dental Health Week, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian Dental Association (ADA) are calling for a tax on sugary drinks to send a strong signal that these drinks are deeply unhealthy.
High consumption of sugary drinks is associated with many negative health impacts, including tooth decay, gum disease, oral infections, oral cancer, obesity, and chronic diseases.
Despite these proven links to poor health outcomes, research shows Australians drink at least 2.4 billion litres of sugary drinks every year — enough to fill 960 Olympic sized swimming pools.
AMA President Professor Steve Robson said this alarming figure showed why Australia needed a tax on these drinks, which have no nutritional benefit.
“Sugary drinks are making Australians sick, with a worrying number of children and adults alike suffering from chronic diseases,” Professor Robson said.
ADA Federal President Dr Stephen Liew said tooth decay was the most prevalent chronic disease in Australia, costing a whopping $4.5 billion dollars in 2019.
“Sugary drinks are a leading contributor to tooth decay through its acidity and source of nutrition to bacteria in the mouth. This acidity can lead to irreversible loss of tooth structure contributing to pain, loss of function, aesthetic changes, and bad breath,“ Dr Liew said.
Dr Liew also said one in four Australian children and one in three adults had untreated tooth decay, while ten in 1000 children aged 5–9 experienced potentially preventable hospitalisations for dental conditions.
“It is not hard to see the role that poor oral hygiene and a high sugar intake have on the health of Australians, particularly children,” Dr Liew said.
Professor Robson said sugar-sweetened beverages also contributed to Australia’s obesity crisis.
“AMA’s research shows a tax on selected sugary drinks would reduce sugar consumption from soft drinks by 12 to 18 per cent, which would then lead to far better health outcomes for Australians,” he said.
AMA analysis shows the tax would also raise $749 to $814 million in revenue each year, which could be invested into preventative health initiatives to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.
But Professor Robson also said a broad range of measures would be required to address social and cultural inequities that prevent many Australians from receiving regular dental care.
The Dental Health Week campaign by the ADA highlights the greater impact poor oral health can have.
Studies reveal a link between oral health and numerous chronic diseases throughout the body including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Knowing that certain lifestyle factors, including the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, can contribute to these links should encourage people — and the global beverage giants responsible for escalating these rates of ill health — to act on reducing the quantity of consumption and sugar additions.