Taking stand on sugary drinks

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 09:24 07/11/2014
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The region's primary health organisation plans to lobby the Marlborough District Council to ban sugary drinks from being sold at council venues and events.

Marlborough mayor Alistair Sowman says councillors would likely support the move, following in the footsteps of Nelson City Council.

Sowman was shocked by graphic pictures shown to him by the region's principal dental officer of the tooth decay caused by sugar-laden drinks, he said.

Tooth disease is the most common reason for hospital admission among children in Marlborough.

Toddlers as young as 18 months have been taken to dental clinics in Marlborough and Nelson with rotting teeth.

Nelson City Council was the first council in New Zealand to roll out the ban at its venues and events and five other district councils, including Wellington, are exploring the policy.

Sowman received a letter from the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board and Nelson City Council urging him to push for a ban.

"It sent a shudder down my back but then I realised it may be an opportunity for us to change," he said.

The policy in Nelson had proven a hit with ratepayers, he said.

"If we care about our children's teeth and obesity rates we need to tackle this soon."

No policy had been brought before council but Sowman thought it would get support from councillors.

Potentially a policy could affect the council's cafeteria and vending machines and council venues such as Stadium 2000, Marlborough Airport and Picton Foreshore, as well as council-run events.

Sowman sits on the board of Marlborough Primary Health Organisation and it agreed on Wednesday to show leadership on the issue with council and schools.

Chief executive Beth Tester said there could be discretionary funding for a public campaign.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board principal dental officer Rob Beaglehole, who drove the board's ban on sugar-added drinks being sold in hospitals, said councils must show leadership.

A couple of children each week were getting multiple teeth extracted and complex dental work at the Blenheim community oral health clinic because of sugary drinks, he said.

"I am sick and tired of extracting multiple teeth from two-year-old children who have been given soft drinks," he said.

"It will bring the health system to its knees within a short period of time if we don't do something.

"Under the local government policy councils have a responsibility for the health and well-being of the community they serve.

"The council doesn't sell alcohol or tobacco, why should they sell sugar? We are not denying people the right to choose what to drink. They can still buy sugary drinks at countless cafes, shops and restaurants."

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In Nelson, there had been no public backlash to the council ban, he said

"Initially we thought following the Nelson policy the nanny state issue would rear its head. People realised the policy wasn't draconian and ensures the healthy option is the easy option."

A water tanker handed out free water at council-run events in Nelson, and stall holders were compliant with the policy at the Nelson Masked Parade.

They sold water, which had a higher mark up and generated a bigger profit than selling sugar-added drinks, Beaglehole said.

"It is a win, win situation for council, for the consumer and stores."

- The Marlborough Express

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