What is the Problem?

The evidence of the negative health impact of these products is clear, particularly with respect to dental health. Sugary drinks are also associated with increased energy intake and, in turn, weight gain and obesity.

Sugary drinks are particularly popular among adolescents.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released revised guidelines for sugars, recommending that energy from “free sugar” (added by manufacturers, cooks or the consumer) is limited to less than 10% overall. WHO also recommend an upper limit of roughly 25 grams of added sugars per adult per day to remain healthy.

Many countries have already recognised the potential to improve population health by taxing sugary drinks. In recent years, Hungary, Mexico (10% tax), France and Chile have all implemented a tax. The UK announcement in March 2016 follows a similar one by South Africa earlier in that year. The UK sugar levy will come into effect in 2018, with the funds to be used to address childhood obesity.

To read about Mexico’s sugar tax outcomes, click here.

Locally, studies by experts looking at the possible effectiveness of a sugar pricing policy, found that an approach similar to that planned in the United Kingdom or implemented in Mexico would see decreases in added sugar consumption – resulting in small but important declines in the prevalence of obesity of about 0.7% in men and 0.% in women.

This may not sound impressive, but extrapolated over 25 years and the potential becomes clear. Building in the true costs of sugar-drinks would see 4,400 fewer cases of heart disease and 1,100 fewer strokes among Australians. Some 1,600 deaths would be avoided and savings to the national health-care system would add up to A$609 million.

Advocacy Targets

PHAIWA is advocating for a sugar tax to be introduced in Australia.

PHAIWA will continue to strive with partners to reduce the consumption of sugar in Aboriginal communities.

PHAIWA will highlight the tactics used by industry to promote sales and consumption of soft drinks, especially to children.

PHAIWA will continue to work with Aboriginal Environmental Health and Aboriginal Health Workers to reduce the soft drink consumption to ensure they are good role models for their communities.

PROJECT ONE – Sugar Consumption in Indigenous Communities

“I think in remote communities and very remote communities, sugar is just killing the population.”

Nigel Scullion (Indigenous Affairs Minister)

In many remote Indigenous communities, sugary drink consumption is particularly high. Evidence to Senate Estimates revealed that, in the 2015/16 financial year, remote Indigenous communities were buying 1.1 million litres of sugary soft drink through community stores.

PHAIWA partnered with Diabetes WA, Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation and AHPA (WA) to increase awareness about the high consumption of soft drink in Aboriginal communities. The project aimed to reduce soft drink consumption through the installation of water fountains and in-store strategies to promote water over soft drink. As part of this trip, the girls worked with the community store managers to identify ways to promote water. Some of the strategies that the store owners plan to implement include: running lunchtime meal deals that have water as the beverage option, dedicating prime shelf space within the stores to water, introducing smaller cans of soft drink, and putting up posters that highlight the health benefits of choosing water instead of soft drink.

The communities were very supportive of the project strategies and felt that installing a water fountain was a great way to reduce soft drink consumption. The local Bidyadanga school children said they would use the water fountain often as they walk past it on their way to school making it easy for them to stop and quench their thirst.

A fact sheet outlining the main outcomes from this project is to the right.

Further Reading

Thurber K. Soft drinks / hard evidence: Reducing soft drink intake could have benefits for Indigenous children. The Health Advocate. 2014; June:32–3.*

PROJECT TWO – Sugar Levy Twitter Analysis

Following the announcement of the UK’s intention to implement a sugar levy, PHAIWA commenced a twitter analysis of tweets using sugary terms from the 7/3/16 to 1/4/16.  This time frame decision was based on just over one week prior and two weeks post the announcement. The aim of the analysis was to identify:

  • Who in Australia is influencing the sugar debate?
  • What arguments are they using?
  • Who is for or against the sugar tax?

A total of 29 482 tweets were accessed and after exclusions, the total number of tweets analysed was 14553.

PHAIWA broke the tweets into sectors to identify who was saying what. These included:

  • Health organisations – NGOs, WHO, advocates
  • Experts – hlth & wellbeing, nutrition, chefs
  • Community
  • Researchers/Universities
  • ‘Healthy’ Industry
  • Soft drink industry
  • Government
  • Media

The CPA framework was then applied to identify and categorise the tweets into the 6 strategies designed to influence policies and public opinion in favour of the industry (Hillman AJ, Keim GD, Schuler D. Corporate political activity: A review and research agenda. J Manage. 2004; 30(6): 837–57).

This project is currently in the analysis phase. For further information please contact Melissa Stoneham at m.stoneham@curtin.edu.au

PHAIWA Publications and Resources

PHAIWA regularly writes on the issue of sugar. Some links are below:

Time to take action on soft drink consumption in low- and middle-income countries (Mel Stoneham)

The Olympics – faster, higher, stronger….unhealthier? (Mel Stoneham)

A spoonful of sugar makes the taxes go up! (Mel Stoneham)

Coke really is part of the solution! And not just for obesity … (Mel Stoneham)

Important Resources

  1. CDC Sugar Sweetened Beverages Reports (February 2017)

CDC has just released two reports on consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, one for adults and one for children and adolescents.

By way of summary the reports state that for adults ages 20 and over:

  • Half drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day.
  • These contribute 145 calories per day or about 6% of total calories.
  • The amount consumed declines with age.

For kids ages 2 to 19, the report says

  • More than 60% consume at least one a day.
  • Sugary drinks provide an average of 143 calories a day or 7% of total calories.
  • Roughly 10% of kids drink 3 or more per day.
  • Kids ages 12 to 19 drink the most.

The reports are available at:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db270.pdf (adults)

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db271.pdf (children)

  1. WHO Sugar intake for adults and Children Guideline (2015)


  1. How Much Sugar is in that Drink? (this is a set of photos from CNN that compares the amount of sugar found in some of America’s top selling beverages


  1. Rethink Sugary Drinks is a partnership between the health and community organisations who are concerned about the amount of sugar in soft drinks and sugary drink overconsumption. Visit the website to find a range of resources and facts – http://www.rethinksugarydrink.org.au/