Not sweet because: the government must keep its promise on sugary drinks


Health Sciences

Despite industry agreements not to sell sugary drinks in school, they remain available in most primary and secondary schools. A “water only” policy will save the health care system tens of millions of dollars and reduce harm to our children.

It’s been 16 years since the country’s leading drinks producers, Coca-Cola Amatil NZ and Frucor Suntory, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministries of Education and Health to phase out soft drinks and energy drinks entirely. secondary school sweets by 2009.

It’s been five years since the New Zealand Beverage Council, which represents the majority of the country’s soft drinks industry (including Frucor Suntory, Red Bull, Better Drinks Co, Coca-Cola Oceania and Coca-Cola Amatil NZ), introduced a policy committing their members to only sell bottled water to elementary and middle schools and not to sell sugary soft drinks or energy drinks to high schools.

These initiatives show that the beverage industry recognizes the harms of obesity and poor dental health caused by sugary drinks. The industry supports reducing this harm by not selling its beverages directly to schools.

Despite these restrictions, a recent survey revealed that 73% of students are still able to buy sugary drinks at school. In addition to non-alcoholic beverages, 30% of elementary schools, half of middle schools, and 100% of high schools had flavored milk or juice available for purchase.

Not surprisingly, the problems that industry restrictions sought to solve have not improved. Sugary drinks cause many health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and poor dental health. Focusing solely on dental health statistics provides good reason to take the problem of sugary drinks in schools seriously.

More than 135,000 children – more than half of the nation’s children – are late for dental checkups. Of these children, 2,157 are awaiting specialist care that may require general anesthesia. Over 8,400 children require general anesthesia for multiple tooth extractions each year, costing our healthcare system over $32 million in general anesthesia costs alone. Our dental system is failing to keep up with the ever increasing demand.

Sugar consumption is the leading cause of dental caries in children, and sugary drinks contribute more than a quarter of the total dietary sugar consumed by New Zealand children. Limiting the consumption of sugary drinks in children will likely reduce the decay of thousands of children’s teeth, reduce the pain and anxiety felt by children, reduce the pressure on oral health waiting lists and allow save tens of millions of dollars.

Why are sugary drinks still widely available in our schools? First, sugary drinks are often made available by companies that sell sugary drinks from manufacturers to schools. In other words, many school canteens are outsourced to private operators. These private operators generally buy drinks directly from supermarkets, bypassing drink wholesalers. The result is that drinks industry agreements have little influence on the drinks that are supplied and sold to children in New Zealand schools.

Second, restrictions on the sale of sugary drinks to schools do not include many types of sugary drinks, such as juice, flavored milk and sports drinks, which are increasingly popular and contain significant amounts of sugar. similar to those of soft drinks. Unsurprisingly, these non-carbonated sugary drinks contribute to persistent high levels of consumption of sugary drinks in New Zealand.

After identifying gaps and being concerned about the risk that sugary drinks pose to children’s health, several schools have implemented water-only policies. They do not allow the sale of sugary drinks through their canteens. Unfortunately, these schools are the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of our children remain exposed to products that have devastating long-term health consequences for them and for society.

Shortly after the 2017 election, the government recognized that excess dietary sugar was a problem that needed action. Health issues – including obesity, diabetes and dental disease – were evident. Unfortunately, five years later, no initiative has been implemented to solve this problem.

The agro-food industry is sensitive to the problem. An industry task force made sensible recommendations: “The government is working with schools to encourage them to adopt a water-only policy that supports the commitment made by members of the New Zealand Beverage Council to only supply than bottled water to elementary and middle schools.”

It is time for the government to keep its promise of action. A strong policy to provide water only in elementary and middle schools and to remove sugary drinks from secondary schools will save the healthcare system tens of millions of dollars each year, but more importantly, reduce harm caused to our children.

This is an edited version of If soft drink companies can do it, why can’t the government? SSB policies in schools need to be strengthened, authors: Gerhard Sundborn, Simon Thorney, Loa Veatupu, Bodo Lang, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.


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