Call for urgent reforms as type 2 diabetes and obesity climb

28 Sep 2023

Food for Health Alliance is calling for a package of reforms to avert Australia’s escalating health crisis as prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes continue to climb.

Food for Health Alliance’s recent submission to the Inquiry into Diabetes in Australia led by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport is urging government to prioritise three policies as part of a broader suite of reforms. These include:

  • Introducing a 20% health levy on manufacturers of sugary drinks
  • Introducing comprehensive government regulation to protect children from unhealthy food marketing
  • Mandating and strengthening the Health Star Rating system across all packaged foods   

Currently two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are above a healthy weight, with Type 2 diabetes strongly linked to this risk factor. Overweight and obesity is responsible for 55% of type 2 diabetes disease burden, while poor diet is responsible for 26%.[i]

Food for Health Alliance’s Executive Manager, Jane Martin said a package of reforms is urgently needed to improve food environments and diets to support better health for all Australians.

“The environment we live in should make it easier for people to maintain good health and wellbeing. But right now, we know that it doesn’t – instead, weak standards give processed food companies free rein to promote and sell unhealthy foods to Australians, increasing their profits at the expense of our health. What’s urgently needed is a suite of coordinated measures, working together to prevent obesity and reduce rates of chronic disease, like type 2 diabetes,” Ms Martin said.

“Sugary drinks are the leading contributor of added sugar in Australian’s diets, especially for young men. Introducing a 20% levy on sugary drinks manufacturers is a win-win as it incentivises them to reduce the sugar content in their drinks and nudges shoppers towards cheaper low or no sugar alternatives.”

More than 85 jurisdictions around the world have introduced a levy on sugary drinks. Evidence from countries that have implemented a levy show it can be effective in reducing consumption and motivating reformulation by manufacturers.[ii]

Australian estimates suggest that a 20% health levy on sugary drinks would reduce cases of type 2 diabetes as well as raise funds that could be used to prevent obesity and improve diets. [iii] 

“Equally, we must take steps to protect children from unhealthy food marketing, The processed food industry bombards kids every day, as they watch TV, go online, or connect on social media – it’s inescapable,” Ms Martin explained.

“This “white noise” of harmful unhealthy food marketing is the soundtrack in Australian children’s lives, influencing what they prefer, choose and eat, putting their future health at risk.

“It’s shocking that Aussie kids aged 5 to 8 years are exposed to at least 827 advertisements of unhealthy food advertising on TV alone each year. In the digital environment teenagers see up to 100 online promotions a week.”

Public support for change is also high. 7 in 10 Australians want government to step in to protect children from unhealthy food marketing.[iv]

Food for Health Alliance is also urging government to mandate and strengthen the Health Star Rating system across all packaged foods. This helps give families the information they need to compare products in the supermarket and opt for healthier versions.

“As long as the Health Star Rating system remains voluntary it lets the food industry off the hook as there’s no incentive to adopt these ratings unless it promotes their products. It’s in their interest to keep people in the dark about the healthiness of their products so they can maximise profits.   

“Implementing widespread preventative health measures are critical if we are to avert a looming hit on individuals’ health, our health system and the country’s hip-pocket.”

Ms Martin said these reforms should be funded under the existing National Obesity Strategy and National Preventive Health Strategy.

Read Food for Health Alliance’s submission to the Inquiry into Diabetes 2023. Learn more at

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: Interactive data on risk factor burden, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 September 2023.


[iii] Veerman, J. L., Sacks, G., Antonopoulos, N., & Martin, J. (2016). The Impact of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on Health and Health Care Costs: A Modelling Study. PloS one11(4), e0151460.

[iv] Nuss T, Chen YJM, Dixon H, Morley B. (2020). Australians’ support for initiatives to protect children from unhealthy food and drink marketing and advertising. Research brief, prepared for: Food for Health Alliance. Melbourne, Australia: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria.