The AMA wants a sugar tax to push people away from highly-sweetened drinks.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has issued a positioning paper on the country's nutrition, which includes a call for tax policy to force up the prices of sugar-sweetened drinks.

“The AMA has a policy of price differentiation making a difference to people's behaviour,” AMA director of public health, Simon Tatz, told reporters.

“That's what we saw with tobacco and that's why we support a sugar tax.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages have absolutely no food value.

“These are not products that if removed from consumption would lead to a loss of any kind of food value,” he said.

A 2016 Grattan Institute report found that such a tax would raise more than $500 million a year, and help reduce the $5.3 billion annual cost of obesity.

“It's a large amount of money that would come from a sugar tax that the Government would have to put back into health promotion,” Mr Tatz said.

The experts say the tax could send a signal to the community that discretionary consumption needs to be addressed.

Sugar taxes have been imposed in 28 countries worldwide and seven US cities.

Mexico is among these nations, and has seen “sugary drink purchases decreased by 7.6 per cent”, according to NCD Free, a group dedicated to alleviating non-communicable disease.

The group says that Mexico’s tax “will prevent up to 134,000 cases of diabetes” over the next decade.

“American and England are moving much more quickly than Australia because they realised the cost of diabetes and obesity is much higher than a tax,” Mr Tatz said.

But federal health minister Greg Hunt has issued a statement saying it does not support the idea.

“Obesity and poor diets are complex public health issue with multiple contributing factors, requiring a community-wide approach as well as behaviour change by individuals,” Mr Hunt’s office said in a statement.

“We do not support a new tax on sugar to address this issue.

“Fresh fruit and vegetables are already effectively discounted as they do not have a GST applied.”

The AMA says a sugar tax is just part of its reform ideas.

The health lobby as well as Choice and the Obesity Coalition want labels changed to make it clearer whether the consumer is eating added sugars or those that occur naturally in the food product's ingredients.

They say that the Health Star Rating (HSR) system should be modified to help people to distinguish between added and naturally-occurring sugars in processed foods.

The AMA also wants:

  • Marketing of junk food and beverages to children to be prohibited
  • Water to be made more accessible and “be the default beverage option”
  • Food labelling to be easy to understand
  • Governments and town planners should make efforts to address “food deserts” where fresh, healthy food is hard to access and expensive
  • The removal of vending machines containing sugar-sweetened drinks from all healthcare settings