Targeting sugar won't solve problem

Last updated 08:23 27/03/2014

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OPINION: The debate over the role of sugar in New Zealand's obesity challenge needs to be focused on a simple equation, writes beverage industry spokesman David France.

The debate around the related issues of obesity and diabetes is at the forefront of discussions in the public health arena not only in New Zealand but internationally.

Those currently leading the debate target sugar sweetened beverages as one of the main causes.

There have recently been comparisons by some with more extreme views to the tobacco/ smoking debate and its effect on health.

This comparison is both inaccurate and unhelpful.

Common sense would suggest the sugar debate is much more complex. Different sugars occur either naturally or as an ingredient in the many food and beverage products that make up our daily food diet.

Some food products containing sugar are what we would describe as everyday staple food items, some are regular consumption items and some are special- occasion treat items.

Unlike the smoking issue, trying to single the part of our consumption pattern that is sugar-heavy is not easy because individual diets differ and individual constitutions react differently.

The other important part to this debate is about how much energy one consumes versus how much energy one burns, and in a healthy lifestyle there has to be a balance. For some individuals, that balance needs to be more actively managed than others.

This issue is about individual lifestyle choice.

From personal experience coming through the Christmas festive period and having a job that required sitting on my backside in front of a computer for extended periods meant having to make the choice to get the balance back in check by doing more exercise and consuming less energy, particularly in the form of fatty and sugary foods. That doesn't mean I had to go without product choice and the occasional special treat.

Those of you with children will also be acutely aware of the need for a balanced diet matched with physical activity. Kids now have the temptations of electronic entertainment that requires much mental activity but doesn't require so much physical activity, meaning the balance of energy consumed to energy used needs to be carefully managed and encouraged by parents.

In saying that, kids are much better informed now and will potentially make better choices around the balance of diet in the future than we did.

The non-alcoholic beverage sector is a leader in product innovation to meet the customer's needs and includes a huge range of fruit juices and drinks, waters, sports drinks, functional drinks, teas, coffees, sugar-sweetened drinks, dairy drinks, and the list goes on.

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There are drinks available with no sugar, drinks with low kilojoules/no kilojoules and drinks made using alternative sweeteners. There is also a huge range of portion sizes and price points to suit consumer needs.

In fact, we would argue there is just about a drink to satisfy every consumer and therefore every lifestyle.

In addition all New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association members voluntarily have their content labelling independently verified to ensure they provide accurate information for the consumer.

It is our view that the vast majority of consumers want and enjoy having the choice of a range of products to suit their lifestyle.

For its part the New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association is a responsible organisation made up of genuinely well-intentioned people who are themselves consumers and in many cases parents.

The industry is listening all the time to try to produce what the consumer wants and we are pleased to report that the New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association has agreed to take a proactive stance on behalf of its members (who include many of the non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers in New Zealand) to look for a long-term sustainable strategy as well and are open to dialogue on how to balance these issues.

We think consumers with the right information should be left to make their own choices and balance their own lifestyles. As an industry it is up to our members to ensure the right information is available to them in a form that is without hyperbole, threat or scare tactics but is balanced and user friendly, and therefore meaningful.

The health issues around obesity and diabetes in our society are real. There is neither a single cause of or simple solution to the issue.

It is a complex combination of how individuals choose to balance their diets and lifestyle. Put simply: either one can eat what you burn or you have to burn what you eat.

David France is the president of the New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association.

- The Southland Times

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