Fat Tax: Time to weigh in on a decision?

Australians are incredible athletes. Aussies carve waves on surfboards and win gold in the pool with the best of 'em. Australians are tanned, fit, good looking, and the envy of the rest of the world.  So why is Australia so overweight?

We are embarrassingly overweight - 63 per cent of Aussies are overweight; 53 per cent of women … and men? 70 per cent of Australian men are overweight. We are a pie + sauce away from statistically overtaking the United States of Obesity. Is it finally time for Australia to enlist a Fat Tax?

Maybe so. Obesity costs Australia $56 billion per year, or $153,000,000 every single day. The carbon, mining, and cigarette taxes create backbench banter and front page news. Governments even discuss banning MSG and downsizing fizzy drink sizes (New York City). But we don't talk about going straight to the source and taxing the fat for bad behaviour.

Is a tax the right thing to do? Personal trainer and TV personality Michelle Bridges was on Channel 10 news last week discussing these obesity statistics, and she thinks the government needs to get involved just as they have with cigarettes.

I disagree. Cheeseburgers and fries ain't cigarettes.

I want the government telling me not to smoke because cigarettes have so many deadly chemicals in them they can't list them on the packet. I don't want the government telling me how many Tim Tams I should eat or the finite number of Tim Tams Arnott's should produce each year.

Let the government tend to our roads, hospital needs, and education. Let us individuals tend to our bodies.

To the Australian women out there. Does it worry you that seven out of every 10 males out here is overweight? One out of 10 is gay. One out of 10 might be slim-unhealthy. So that leaves one out of 10 within the male population as a correct-weight-mate. The healthy man drought is drier than we thought.

The obesity issue is not sugar, fast food, the government, or big food conglomerates. The problem is men and women and their level of commitment.

Ask an individual what their commitment is to their job, their partner, their house, their children, and they'll give it to you straight. But ask 63 per cent of the folks out there what their commitment is to their health, their weight, and their lifestyle choices? You'll get a lot of um'ing and ah'ing.

Taxes aren't the answer. When I run Bondi to Coogee Beach, I don't need taxation to keep me moving … I just need the path, sun, topless beaches, ocean, and a healthy juice at Melonhead in Coogee. My commitment to my health determines how I want to spend my day and what foods I put into my body.

Too many adults are committed to LOL'ing on Facebook for hours, playing video games with one hand, and putting their hand in the cookie jar with the other. We're drinking fizzy and energy drinks, eating cereals with cartoon characters on the box, staying up late snacking on junk food and junk television. Sound like a child? You got it. Australian adults are acting like children.

Good parents don't smack a child for failing to do his or her chores; they create incentives for that child via an allowance. Overweight adults that are acting like children need the same incentive.

Forget increased taxes. Imagine tax breaks for your gym membership, personal training sessions. Imagine a tax break or work bonus for zero sick days, a healthy weight, zero days in a hospital bed, or a successful finish in the City2Surf.

Crazy ideas? Maybe. But it's better than another scolding "tax".  Australians will respond to health-based incentives.

For those of you in the 63 per cent battling and giving it your best with healthy foods and exercise? I'm with you because I've been there and I've made the healthy change. It's hard, it sucks, and it's challenging. But it's the best road you can take. Keep going.

I admit to having a love-hate relationship with naughty food. My father owned numerous fast food restaurants which ultimately paid for a pretty nice uni education and put quality food on the table. Yet as an adult I've been the chubby chap (and turned it around) because of that very food, and I now make a decision as an adult to not walk through those doors again.

When I arrived in Australia from Chicago  nine years ago, I saw the same American fast food options, shopping aisles full of cookies, fizzy drinks, sauces and chips ... and soon the bulging Australian waistlines. Australians are overweight because we have become Americanised.

If we want to get fit, healthy, and avoid diabetes and other obesity related diseases, we have to make a change as a nation. We have to turn off the American crime shows and dramas, and instead head out for a run on Australian soil. We have to drop the doughnuts and pick up the fruit and vegetables.

So let's get with it Australia.

The answer is less science, less examination, less diets, and less powdered supplement drinks. The answer is what it was in 1920, 1950, 1980, and today - more fresh food and more sport. The answer is less about government taxing double cheeseburgers 10 per cent and more about your commitment to being a healthy man or woman.

The answer is to commit to being less American and eat more Australian salmon and Australian vegetables. The answer is to get more vitamin D in the Aussie sun while enjoying Australian fruit, and to get outdoors and move our bodies along the world's most beautiful shorelines.

The answer is simple - commit, eat and move your body like an Australian.

Rant over. Next week I'll be writing about 'Yoga with your pets. Good idea? Or paws before you sign up?'

Do we need a Fat Tax? What should our culture do to stop the obesity epidemic?


This article Fat Tax: Time to weigh in on a decision? was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.