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Junk food Tax To Tackle Obesity Backed By Former Weight Watchers Head Scott Penn

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Former Weight Watchers global vice president Scott Penn has called for a tax on junk food that has no nutritional value.

Mr Penn, founder of SP Health and co-owner of the Manly Warringah Rugby League team, told a horticulture conference in Sydney the tax would help increase the consumption of fresh produce.

A proposal last week by the respected Grattan Institute to tax sugary drinks was ridiculed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce as “bonkers mad” and a “moralistic tax”, which would have huge impacts on sugar farmers in the north of Australia.

But Mr Penn said a junk food tax was exactly what was needed to send a message about healthy eating.

He told the Horticulture Innovation Australia forum last week that 80 per cent of Australian teenagers who were overweight would stay that way into adulthood.

Mr Penn has form in the area — his company SP Health is a partner to TV program The Biggest Loser, and the CSIRO’s Wellbeing Diet.

He also ran Weight Watchers for almost 10 years, until 2005.

Health problems linked to obesity rate as Australia’s second-biggest killer after heart disease, and cost the health sector $21 billion a year, according to the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Why support a junk food or sugar tax?


Mr Penn said the problem was that people were labelling food as sugar, fat or junk food, when it should be labelled as having “no nutritional value”.

“Lollies with 100 per cent sugar, or products which are discretionary foods which our bodies don’t need, then we should be taxing them at a high rate,” he said.

“We need to disincentivise people from having a high rate of them.

“There’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but people aren’t using them as treats any more. People have built them into their daily routine and diet.”
Mr Penn said making these foods more expensive would make people think about the purchase.

Taking a virtual reality flight through your future body

Mr Penn’s company is partnered with governments to deliver a high-tech virtual reality education program for school kids to teach them about healthy eating.

The kids wear virtual reality goggles and take tour of the body, seeing how it ages over 20 years with a poor diet.

Mr Penn said people’s attention span had shrunk over the past five years, from 12 seconds to just 8.5 seconds, which was less than a goldfish at 9 seconds.

“There has been some ground-breaking work overseas, where they show the inside of the body and what happens over time if you have nutritional deficiency,” he said.

“Things like organ decay, and what happens when you eat food. The kids don’t even know that.”

Mr Penn was 20 kilograms overweight as a teenager because he ate friends’ lunches at school and still bought canteen food.

“I didn’t know when to stop and was eating a lot often, and certainly wasn’t exercising much,” he said.

“I was adding 2-3kg a year. Unless we stop, we keep going. We convince ourselves it’s okay.”

Mr Penn said it was only when he saw a photo of his overweight body riding a horse that he began a healthy diet.

Woefully low vegetable intake

Vegetable growers’ lobby group Ausveg does not support a punitive tax on other foods, but does support increased consumption of vegetables.

“A standard serve of vegetables is considered to be 75 grams, which equals roughly half a cup of cooked green or orange vegetables, a full cup of green leafy vegetables, or half a medium-sized potato,” communications manager Shaun Lindhe said.

“Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown that over 90 per cent of Australian adults fail to eat their recommended daily intake of vegetables, with the average man eating only 2.3 serves of vegetables each day, and the average woman eating only 2.5 serves.

“When it comes to children this number increases to around 96 per cent of children aged between 2-17.”

That means fewer than 5 per cent of children are getting enough vegetables.


Ausveg has found better packaging can help change this, with 18-35-year-olds three times more likely to buy pre-prepared vegetables than the average shopper.

Ausveg has partnered with governments and retailers on the Healthy Foods Program to boost fresh produce consumption.

Online Source: ABC.net.au.

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