Sugar content too high in nearly half the drinks Kiwis kids can buy, study finds
The sugar content of drinks kids commonly consume in this country has surprised and concerned researchers, who say more effort is needed to save them from obesity.
Kiwi academics involved in a global sugar study claim self-regulation of the beverage industry is not working and the Government must step in to make drinks healthier.
But Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says he has no intention to impose a sugar tax, opting to tackle obesity by other means.
New research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, involved academics from Toi Ohomai (formerly Waiariki) Institute of Technology, AUT, and Canada's Waterloo University.
They analysed the sugar content of 656 supermarket-sold beverages in New Zealand that children commonly consume, including fruit juices, cordials, dairy/soy-based drinks, bottled water and carbonated soda drinks.
Researchers found 48 per cent exceed the United States recommended serving size for sugar of 240mL.
Fruit juice and carbonated soda drinks were found to get more than 85 per cent of their total energy content from sugar. They were also the two categories with the most products containing more than 10 per cent sugar.
Just over 90 per cent of dairy/soy-based drinks had added sugar.
Researchers also found a "slight downward trend" in the mean sugar content of fruit juices and carbonated soda drinks from amounts detected five years ago.
It was not clear if this was due to a reduction in amounts of added sugar, or to manufacturers increasing the number of products with other sweeteners.
Dr Lynne Chepulis, from Toi Ohomai, said industry self-regulation was not working.
"Unfortunately New Zealand has the worst profile and appears to be doing little to address it," she said.
"The UK, by comparison, is making significant inroads in reducing the actual sugar content of fizzy drinks."
British lawmakers decided to implement a sugar levy on soft drinks in 2016.
Chepulis did not support a sugar tax but said producers could also reduce sugar content by using natural sweeteners such as Stevia.
"In the UK even the Coca Cola company is on board, and the Coke products sold in the UK do contain less sugar than other countries. If they can do it there, why not here?"
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government was watching bigger pieces of research going on internationally.
"Our position on a sugar tax hasn't changed - it's not something we're actively considering. There's no single solution that will fix obesity.
"That's why we've implemented a childhood obesity plan with a range of interventions across Government, the private sector, communities, schools and families."
New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole said the lack of action from the Government was appalling.
The new study would surprise consumers who may have no idea that some so-called fruit juices now had higher sugar content than cola, he said.
"You're better off to give your kid a can of [cola] for breakfast than you are to give them a glass of orange juice, in terms of the amount of sugar. There needs to be a radical reorganisation of what we are giving our kids."
Dentists were alarmed at the tooth decay they were seeing in patients who consumed sugary beverages, he said.
"It's pretty common for me to pull out 50 teeth a day."
In October, a World Health Organisation report said taxing sugary drinks could lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.