It’s the blunt instrument beloved by governments, economists and public health activists and despised by those who, through addiction or lack of will, continue to consume.

Smoking was reduced largely through price rises and now Griffith Health Institute researchers will study whether dramatic rises in the price of junk food can affect our biggest health issue, obesity.

The research, funded by Australian National Preventive Health Agency, is being led by Dr Tracy Comans and includes Professors Elizabeth Kendall and Andrew Hills and Dr Jenny Whitty.

Are we happy to carry the cost?

“We need to start looking beyond blaming individuals and toward the structural things in our society. Are we ok with junk food being cheaper and easier to buy than good quality food?” said Dr Comans.

“Two-thirds of Australian adults are over-weight, 5-8% of kids starting school are already obese and the cost to our health system in tax dollars is huge.

“Ultimately the question comes back to, ‘are we happy to carry the cost?’”

How do we decide what to tax?

The research team includes nutrition experts, health economists, social workers and doctors and who will convene in early 2013 on the complex question of what exactly is the junk food that should be targeted.

Sugary drinks, high-fat fast food, foods containing high levels of corn-syrup, trans fats, chocolate and high carbohydrates, are possible targets.

A citizen’s assembly of twenty people will then discuss what, if anything, should be done to tax the foods which make children obese and parents of children recruited through the Environments for Health Living project will be surveyed to see if price will change choices.

“We’ve got to stop the weight gain to reverse obesity. It’s definitely a prevention issue. As everyone knows, once you’ve put the weight on, it’s very difficult to get it off.”