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20% voluntary sugar reduction regulation for soft-drink businesses to solve the problem of obesity in Australia? Dietitians, doctors and public health advocates not convinced

Dietetics, Exercise Physiology / Science, Medicine, Pharmacy, The Health Industry

The announcement of major beverage companies to reduce sugar across the industry by 20% by 2025 in an attempt to support healthier lifestyles has been met by an overall sense of underwhelm from industry bodies across the country.

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) stance is that although they support a “sugar tax” on sweetened beverages, this is not enough in isolation. They have recommended a multi-faceted long term approach with dietitians being part of the solution, and has called for funds raised from a sugar tax to be invested in this approach.

Public Health Association Australia CEO Terry Slevin believes that this voluntary step taken by the beverage companies in Australia is an attempt to resist the pattern of sugar regulation happening all over the world.

He said, “The makers of sugary drinks know their time is up in under-regulated trading in their unhealthy products to the Australian population, and this pledge to reduce 20 per cent of the sugar on average is a clear admission on their part that they are selling an unhealthy product.”

“It is good to see that industry finally understands that change is required. But what they propose is too

little, too slow, too late, and is inadequate to bring the progress we desperately need. Self-regulation is no regulation” he added.

Mr Slevin also cited UK’s newest tax regulation on sugary drinks as an example. He said, “The announcement in the UK recently that it will introduce a health levy on sugary drinks resulted in soft drink manufacturers reformulating their products before the tax was even due to commence, which shows how quickly they can potentially change the sugar content in their drinks if needed. 2025 is a long way away.”

As mentioned by CEO Slevin, sugar tax regulations in the UK provoked soft drink businesses in the country to make some changes, the Australian Medical Association envisions that this same strategy will be effective in Australia.

Australian Medical Association President, Dr Tony Bartone said that this week’s announcement on sugar reduction was totally inadequate and further evidence of the industry shirking its stated intention and responsibility to contribute to improving public health.

“The soft drink industry’s commitment to cut sugar content is too little over too long a period, and there is no guarantee of less sugar in the most popular sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs).

“By the time 2025 rolls around, more Australians will be affected by the health harms of obesity, including from the high sugar content in SSBs.

“One of the best ways to achieve a change in consumer behaviour is with a sugar tax. The evidence is in. Price signals work.” Dr Bartone said.

The AMA has called for prioritization of a sugar tax in the health policies for the next federal election. It believes that the introduction of a sugar tax in Australia will aid the problem of obesity and improve health population across all age groups.

And while doctors from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians RACP also agree in implementing a tax on sugar, they also pointed out the importance of a detailed action plan.

As RACP President, Associate Professor Mark Lane said, “Otherwise, it’s just the same smoke and mirrors we usually get.”

“It’s good to see the industry express a commitment to producing healthier products but we want to see the details of its plan to achieve a sugar reduction,

“The Government should revise the Health Star Rating system’s nutrient profiling algorithm to give stronger weight to sugar content and make it mandatory by 2019.

“The Government also needs to stop kowtowing to industry and effectively regulate their marketing activities. The food and beverage industry continue to advertise unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages in a way that directly targets children and adolescents.” he said.

Photo by rawpixel at Pixabay

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