Right: when New York City, in an attempt to do something about a perceived weight problem in its citizens, banned "oversized" soft drinks, cartoonists were quick on the satiric draw.
The Australian government has indicated that it has no interest in placing a tax on soft drinks and other sweetened beverages. This is likely to prove a short-term decision.
In 2006, the current leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, publicly identified the consumption of soft drinks as a primary cause of Australia's obesity problem. Should Mr Abbott become Australia's next prime minister, it will be interesting to see if he and his government support the imposition of a tax on soft drinks.
The question is more complex than it might at first appear. Although the consumption of soft drinks has been linked to obesity and its associated health problems, there is no assurance that a tax on soft drinks would resolve this problem. There is already a growing trend in Australia toward the consumption of artificially sweetened diet drinks. A number of studies have indicated that these drinks also come with health risks and may not represent a safe alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks. If a tax on soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages were to increase the consumption of artificially sweetened products this may have no positive health effect.
The claims of the Australian Beverages Council that there are many other factors that prompt obesity are obviously true. Were the Australian government to take a pro-active approach to the prevention of weight-related diseases it would also need to consider how it could best discourage the consumption of all fast foods.
Any strategy designed to alter the eating and drinking habits of Australians would need a combination of education and taxation. The Cancer Council, Diabetes Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia are beginning their own advertising and education campaign titled 'Time to Rethink Sugary Drinks'. The government should take an active part in the support of such campaigns via taxation in the same way as it has in addressing the health risks associated with smoking and some aspects of alcohol consumption.
The soft drink industry is made up of subsidiaries of very powerful multinational companies, while the largest players in the fast food industry are similarly powerful and multinational. It may be that in an election year the government does not wish to take on such substantial adversaries; however, it seems likely that in years to come Australia's governments, of whatever political persuasion, will need to do more to address Australian's eating and drinking habits in the name of overcoming the associated health problems.