A teaspoon of sugar: Health bodies set sights on sugary beverages

Are you drinking yourself fat? That's the question posed by three of Australia's leading health organisations in a new campaign taking the fight to the soft drink industry.

The Cancer Council, Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation have joined forces for the first time to launch 'Rethink Sugary Drink', which asks: "You wouldn't eat 16 packs of sugar in one hit, would you? So why would you drink them all in one go?"

The campaign encourages consumers to switch to water and reduced-fat milk over sugar-sweetened beverages. It comes after Coca-Cola in the US launched its own campaign addressing the issue of obesity for the first time.

Cancer Council Australia Public Health Committee chair Craig Sinclair said: "Soft drinks seem innocuous and consumed occasionally they're fine, but soft drink companies have made it so they’re seen as part of an everyday diet ... they're often cheaper than bottled water and are advertised relentlessly to teenagers. 

"But sugary drinks shouldn't be part of a daily diet ... they’re being consumed at levels that can lead to serious health issues for the population. It's time to stop sugar-coating the facts."

According to the 2007 Australian National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, nearly half of children aged two to 16 consumed sugar-sweetened beverages daily, with a quarter consuming soft drinks daily.

The campaign calls for the federal government to step in. Heart Foundation Victoria acting chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly said: "We urge the federal government to implement restrictions to reduce children's exposure to marketing of sugary drinks, including through schools and sports events."

Meanwhile, Diabetes Australia chief executive Greg Johnson called for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, among other possible interventions to reduce consumption.

Geoff Parker, chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, told AdNews he disagreed with the notion that sugary drinks should not be part of an everyday diet, and rejected the call for additional taxes.

"We support that all beverages can be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet supported by physical activity. The industry has a range of kilojoule options to meet every lifestyle," he said.

"Taxes on soft drinks won’t work. The industry is vehemently against discriminatory taxes. The Henry Review and a 2010 Productivity Commission Report into the economic effects of childhood obesity both said these types of taxes won’t work.

"We think a tax on the shopping trolley is a flawed approach to dealing with a complex issue like obesity.”

The 'Rethink Sugary Drink' ad has been licensed from from the New York Department of Health and tailored for an Australian audience.


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