Sugary drinks must be legislated against - researchers

Fizz is a group of researchers and public health doctors who want an end to the sale of sugary drinks
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Fizz is a group of researchers and public health doctors who want an end to the sale of sugary drinks

Sugar needs to be looked at in the same way as alcohol and tobacco if our health system is to cope in the future, health researchers say.

Sales of sugary drinks may be in decline but full sugar drinks were still incredibly cheap, too readily available and came with too many health implications, University of Auckland senior lecturer Bodo Lang said.

Lang will present his findings at the one-day symposium in south Auckland on Wednesday. "We have a very loving affair with sugar. It's something that's seen as very positive but research tells us it has very negative effects."

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He said it might seem odd now to say sugar was on par with alcohol or tobacco but in 10 years' time, there would need to be government legislation in place or the health system wouldn't be able to cope with the rising obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

The symposium is being held by Fizz, a group of researchers and public health doctors who want an end to the sale of sugary drinks as they say the links between these drinks and common diseases is too strong to ignore.

This week's event at the Manukau Institute of Technology in south Auckland features researchers from around the country speaking on issues like taxing sugary drinks, promoting water in schools and the role of government and local authorities on the issue.

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According to the latest study from business research agency Euromonitor International the recent negative attention given to fizzy drinks had severely hampered consumer demand for them. "In response to this, the major players within soft drinks, most notably Coca-Cola Amatil (NZ), which received the lion's share of negative attention, refocused their efforts to present their brands in a more positive light," the May 2015 report said.

Recent marketing campaigns have shifted from promoting just the product to highlighting that they are best enjoyed in moderation and that there is a need to exercise. Low calorie fizzy drinks have gained some traction but consumers remain concerned about artificial sweeteners.

Paul Fitzgerald, the general manager of Coca-Cola South Pacific, is scheduled to be part of a panel discussion at the symposium. He said Coke wanted to be part of the discussion on what could be done collectively to reduce obesity. "We acknowledge that as a leader in the food and beverage industry we have a role to play in being part of the solution but we also believe that at the centre of this debate is the commonly understood premise that if you consume more energy than you burn, then you will put on weight."

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Coca-Cola was against a tax on sugary drinks, he said.

Recently, researchers have spoken out about the impact of sugar on children's teeth with children as young as 18 months turning up to dentists' offices with rotten teeth after drinking soft drinks from a baby's bottle.

The Fizz group said there had been an increase in public support for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages since the start of this year according to polling by the by the National Heart Foundation and Cancer Society.

This year, the sale of fizzy drinks in all hospital premises has been banned following a directive from The Ministry of Health asking health boards throughout New Zealand to help reduce the incidence of obesity, and show a commitment to limit sugary drinks. The policy prevents the sale of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and flavoured milk on hospital premises.

Diet soft drinks and fruit juices with no added sugar are not included in the policy.

 - Stuff

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