Fizzy drinks need sugar tax, study ad­vo­cates

The Press - - News - Cate Broughton

A study show­ing Kiwi fizzy drinkers are un­likely to make healthy changes on their own sup­ports a tax on sug­ary drinks, re­search says.

The Univer­sity of Otago study found New Zealand fizzy drinkers are less likely to read nu­tri­tional la­bels than those who ab­stain. The find­ing came from a sur­vey of 2007 Ki­wis on their food and drink con­sump­tion over a 24-hour pe­riod and their in­ten­tions to live healthily.

Just over a third of par­tic­i­pants re­ported hav­ing at least one sug­ary drink dur­ing the study pe­riod, with 10 per cent con­sum­ing two or more drinks in the time­frame.

Com­pared to the non-fizzy drink­ing par­tic­i­pants, the fizzy drinkers were less likely to have healthy be­hav­iours such as us­ing nu­tri­tion la­bels, mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to eat healthily and avoid­ing salt, fat, or sugar. They were also more likely to eat lol­lies, ice­cream, cake and fast-food.

Study lead au­thor Dr Kirsten Robert­son said the find­ings showed cur­rent ‘‘soft’’ mea­sures to re­duce con­sump­tion, such as nu­tri­tional la­belling, were un­likely to re­duce New Zealand’s high obe­sity rate and a tax on the prob­lem prod­ucts would be more ef­fec­tive.

‘‘The fact that sug­ary sweet­ened bev­er­ages (SSBs) con­sumers are less likely than non-SSB con­sumers to try to eat healthily, or to read food la­bels, raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the like­li­hood of them chang­ing their be­hav­iour in re­sponse to bet­ter la­belling.’’

Re­search show­ing the sugar con­tent in SSBs in New Zealand ex­ceeded World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion rec­om­men­da­tions re­vealed in­dus­try self-reg­u­la­tion was not work­ing, Robert­son said.

Be­ing able to con­trol weight in our ‘‘obe­segenic en­vi­ron­ment’’ re­quired ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive ef­fort’’, in­clud­ing the use of nu­tri­tional in­for­ma­tion to make food choices.

‘‘If we rely on food la­bels peo­ple ac­tu­ally have to pick them up and have a look and you have to be mo­ti­vated to do that and then also un­der­stand the in­for­ma­tion on the back of it.’’

Robert­son said na­tional taxes on sug­ary drinks would ‘‘give some power back to in­di­vid­u­als to be able to make health­ier choices with­out hav­ing to re­fer to food la­bels’’. NZ Bev­er­age Coun­cil (NZBC) spokesman Stephen Jones said obe­sity was a ma­jor and com­plex prob­lem in New Zealand, but a tax on sug­ary drinks was not the so­lu­tion.

He said a Gov­ern­ment-funded New Zealand In­sti­tute of Eco­nomic Re­search (NZIER) re­port re­leased ear­lier this year ‘‘found not a sin­gle case in the real world where a sugar tax im­proved health out­comes for the pop­u­la­tion af­fected’’.

In­stead the coun­cil ad­vo­cated for bet­ter con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion and ‘‘was open to a con­ver­sa­tion about bet­ter la­belling to help con­sumers un­der­stand the in­for­ma­tion al­ready pro­vided’’.

NZBC mem­bers had al­ready com­mit­ted to putting a Health Star Rat­ing on prod­ucts by 2020 and were fo­cussed on in­creas­ing the range of low and no sugar prod­ucts.

Obe­sity ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Boyd Swin­burn said the NZIER re­port con­cluded a re­duc­tion of 800 grams in weight per per­son over a year was in­signif­i­cant, but that was wrong.

He said Ki­wis were putting on an av­er­age of 260g per year, so a re­duc­tion of 800g across the pop­u­la­tion was not in­signif­i­cant.

Nu­tri­tion la­belling was tar­geted at ‘‘health seek­ers’’ who were most likely to be mak­ing healthy choices and would not have a big ef­fect on obe­sity lev­els. Warn­ing la­bels would be more ef­fec­tive in achiev­ing be­havioural change and re­duc­ing obe­sity, he said.

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