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Time to rethink the next steps

October 2013

Earlier this month, a bunch of leading public health experts came together for the first time to discuss the growing health risks associated with Australians' high consumption of sugary drinks, and possible steps to address it.

Participants at Rethink Sugary Drink forum

Rethink Sugary Drink is a partnership between Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia and Heart Foundation (Victoria), with support from Nutrition Australia and the Australian Dental Association. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages and to encourage Australians to reduce their consumption. The high consumption of sugary drinks is widely recognised as an emerging health issue due to its link to overweight and obesity and tooth decay.

With nearly 25 per cent of children and more than 60 per cent of adults in Australia overweight or obese, it is vital that we start to investigate approaches to reduce the excess kilojoules in diets that come from sugary drinks including soft drink, energy drinks and sports drinks.

It can be argued that sugary drinks are now considered an everyday staple as opposed to an occasional treat. The 2007 Australian National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that 47 per cent of children (2 to 16 years of age) consumed sugar sweetened beverages every day.

Improving people's awareness of the amount of sugar and kilojoules in these drinks is important but it needs to be backed up with good government policy. It's hard to encourage people to drink water if once they venture out of home it's impossible to find a water tap or a vending machine that isn't full of sugary drinks.

The good news is momentum seems to be building for change within organisations, and communities are seeking support to create healthier environments. It's time for government, community-based organisations and workplaces to start looking at policies to facilitate change. These could include:

  • restrictions on marketing sugary drinks to children
  • reducing availability of sugary drinks in children's settings such as schools and sports centres
  • reducing availability in workplaces, government institutions and healthcare settings
  • an investigation into tax options to increase the prices of sugary drinks.

Obesity is a major cause of a range of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, and sugar-sweetened drinks are known to be a major contributor to the problem. Evidence also shows that consumption of sugary drinks increases the risk of tooth decay and erosion.

Rethink Sugary Drink has launched a new digital advertisement that aims to represent what will happen if the extra kilojoules consumed through sugar-sweetened drinks are not burnt off.

For tips on how you, your school or your workplace can reduce sugary drink consumption, visit Rethink Sugary Drink.

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