Chipping Away at our Sugar Addiction - One Spoonful at a Time

by Troy D

It may help the medicine go down, but sugar is quickly becoming the new pariah of the food world. To Nexba, this shift can’t come quickly enough.

Experts say Australians now eat an average of 27 teaspoons of sugar every day. That’s way over the six teaspoons limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.

And unfortunately, the impact has been dramatic. According to a recent study by the Australian Medical Association, more than 60% of Australians adults and at least one in four children are overweight or obese, with sugary drinks identified as a key contributor to the problem.

In fact, the New York Times reported that the only studies which don’t find a link between obesity and sugary drinks are those commissioned by the soft drink companies themselves.

Taxing our sugar fix

Many solutions have been discussed when it comes to curbing the sugar addiction. The idea that has gained momentum in countries around the world is that of a levy on sugary drinks. The so-called ‘Sugar Tax’ is believed to be one of the key ways we could battle the obesity crisis and has been supported by major health groups such as the World Health Organisation and even celebrities like Jamie Oliver. In fact, the WHO says a 20% price increase on sugary drinks could reduce consumption by the same proportion.  

Yesterday, the Grattan Institute published a report recommending that a sugar tax of 40c per 100g be imposed in Australia to reduce sugary soft drink consumption by 15% AND raise $500 million to help fight obesity. But they stressed that this was only part of the solution for obesity.

Recently, representatives for the Royal Australian College of GPs, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons included a sugar tax as part of their six-point plan to tackle obesity in Australia. They argued that obesity is a ‘real disease, not simply a lifestyle choice,” and noted that many doctors felt they were “failing overweight and obese patients.” The move is also supported by FIZZ, a group of researchers and doctors in New Zealand who is currently working with schools, communities, food retailers, and the government to advocate for action to reduce intake of sugary drinks.

Given the progress that is being made, it has also been so disappointing to see leaders such as Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce outright reject the idea of a sugar tax. His argument was that consumers can make decisions based on the existing nutritional information on products, but our survey showed that Australian parents think the best way to cut sugar consumption is to offer them more great-tasting, healthy alternatives and to make food labels easier to understand! Perhaps that’s why leaders in the UK have called to label sugar quantities in fizzy drinks by the teaspoon, instead of in grams, to make it easier for parents and children to understand just how much they’re getting of the sweet stuff.

So what’s happening in Australia?

The good news is that more people are paying attention to Australia’s sugar problem and taking action - - the Grattan Institute proposal being part of these new initiatives.

Our recent survey of Australian parents found that nearly nine of 10 parents said it was either important or very important that they reduce the amount of sugar their kids consume. And they’re ready to make their words count with their wallets.

In Tasmania, Jamie Oliver is now seeking government support for his Ministry of Food healthy eating program, a seven-week basic cooking skills course, which 32,000 people around the country have already completed and even  foreign minister Julie Bishop recently helped launch a sugar-free cookbook.

That Sugar Film, which raised awareness of the hazards of diets with too much sugar, has become one of the highest-grossing Australian documentaries of all time and sugar-free bloggers such as Sarah Wilson have built up massive followers of Aussies looking for alternatives to unhealthy food options.

Even on our own social media channels, we constantly receive messages from concerned parents, teachers and others hoping to swap out soft drinks for our natural sugar-free colas in local canteens.

Only last week Sydney Uni announced it was considering plans to ban sugary soft drinks from the campus.

Australian consumers are clearly calling out for solutions. They want to see more naturally sugar-free options in the major retailers and available at affordable prices. But there is so much more our government leaders and major businesses can and should do to make it happen more quickly and effectively.

Perhaps, we should take the lead from our neighbours across the ditch. In New Zealand, supermarkets have set an example by publicly supporting government-backed initiatives to cut obesity and health boards across the country have banned the sales of sugar-sweetened soft drinks in hospitals.

The truth is that all options should be on the table – whether it’s initiatives to promote product reformulation, educational campaigns or even product-specific taxes to generate funding for preventative health measures. And we shouldn’t be stymied by the message that unless a solution is a complete fix, we should continue to do nothing.

This brings us back to the reason we set up Nexba in the first place - to transform people’s lives by being the naturally better-for-you brand. Our goal is to continue engaging the next generation of consumers to make healthy lifestyle choices and encouraging the giant food and beverage makers to design products with consumers’ health at the forefront.  

We are stuck under a pile of sugar and it’s time to dig ourselves out. The call for sugar free movement is getting louder in Australia and around the world. So I ask our government and business leaders - are you listening?

Troy D
Troy D