Dentists and ‘ditch the fizz’ campaigners argue research showing Kiwi soft drinks are sweeter than other western countries means that government action is needed now.
A recent University of Waikato study comparing the sugar content of non-alcoholic beverages – including juice and fizzy drink – sold in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom found the Kiwi versions had the highest sugar levels.
Hāpai Te Hauora, the Māori Public Health Organisation behind this month’s Fizz Free Whānau Challenge, says the study highlights the need for the government “to step up to protect communities” from obesity, dental problems and other health issues.
The New Zealand Dental Association responded to the study – that showed Kiwi drinks contained several teaspoons of sugar more than the other countries – by calling for immediate measures to address sugary drink harm. Including putting an icon on sugary drinks showing how many teaspoons of sugary they contain, a sugar drink levy and ensuring schools are ‘water only’.
Dr Rob Beaglehole, the association spokesperson on sugary drinks, said putting a sugar drink icon on drinks meant “an end to the confusion around ‘sugar per 100mls” that consumers currently faced when buying and comparing drinks.
Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, the Fizz Free campaign manager said the challenge to give up sugary drinks for January was showing that many whānau were absolutely hooked on fizzy drinks and were suffering headaches and withdrawal symptoms while trying to give them up. “Yet these drinks that can do so much harm, are all around the place- in stores, on bill boards and shopfronts, represented as some kind of essential component of the kiwi summer.”
“Choices are not made in a vacuum, so when we have environments like this, it’s no wonder that people have a hard time ditching the fizz,” said Sherwood-O’Regan. “This really highlights the need for stronger regulation at the central government level, as well as community-based policies to support whānau who want to make positive choices for their health.”
The Waikato study, led by Dr Lynne Chepulis follows on from her earlier study looking at the sugar content of 656 beverages available to New Zealand kids which found fruit juice were the most sugary drinks (55% of juices on the market had sugar contents of 10% or more) followed by fizzy drinks (43% were 10% sugar or more) followed by cordials and dairy/soy-based drinks (both 18.5%).
The UK is introducing a sugar tax that takes effect in April this year but rather than adding a retail tax, like Mexico, the UK is taxing soft drinks manufacturers that produce drinks with a total sugar content of more than 5g per 100ml and a higher levy for drinks with 8g per 100ml or more (including original recipe Coca Cola and Scottish-favourite Irn Bru).
Beaglehole said many countries, like the UK, address sugary drink consumption by adding a levy on sugary drinks. He added that in the past few years ‘water-only’ policies for primary and intermediate schools had been a great success but that needed to extend this to all schools including high schools.
He said a consortium of public health groups ¬– including Hapai Te Hauora, Diabetes New Zealand, Cancer Society and The Heart Foundation endorsed the NZDA-led seven action consensus statement on sugary drinks.
The statement’s seven actions are:
- Introducing an icon on drinks indicating, in teaspoons, the amount of sugar in each drink.
- Independent monitoring and evaluation of food marketing, with an emphasis on marketing that influences children.
- Urging the government to adopt WHO limit guidelines on sugar.
- Encouraging public to switch to water by; introducing warning labels highlighting sugary drinks as risk factors for obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay, and a nationwide social marketing campaigns such as ‘Switch to Water’.
- Working with schools and the Ministry of Education to introduce ‘water only’ policies.
- Introducing local council ‘water only’ policies at council facilities and events.
- Introducing a ‘sugary drinks’ tax in line with WHO recommendations.