Fizzy drinks need sugar tax, study advocates
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.