What works to cut sugar?
A Cochrane Review has weighed up several interventions that are used to influence us to buy or drink fewer sugary drinks.
While the effects of taxes will be covered in a separate study, this review identified a number of measures which the available scientific evidence indicates reduces the amount of sugary drinks people drink. These measures included:
- Labels that are easy to understand, such as ‘traffic-light’ labels, and labels that rate the healthiness of beverages with stars or numbers.
- Limits to the availability of sugary drinks in schools.
- Price increases on sugary drinks in restaurants, stores and leisure centres.
- Children’s menus in chain restaurants which include healthier beverages instead of sugary drinks as the default.
- Promotion and better placement of healthier beverages in supermarkets.
- Government food benefits (e.g. food stamps) which cannot be used to purchase sugary drinks.
- Community campaigns focused on supporting healthy beverage choices.
- Measures that improve the availability of low-calorie beverages at home, e.g. through home deliveries of bottled water and diet beverages.
Dr Bodo Lang, University of Auckland's head of marketing, says having scientific evidence that assessed the effectiveness of different interventions was important, according to Stuff. The results would also be useful for organisations and central and local governments, he says.
"What makes the study particularly important is the fact that consumption of sugary drinks in many markets is at an all-time high. Specifically, many markets show a decline in consumption of traditional soft drinks (e.g. colas or sodas) but this decline has been more than compensated for by the rapid increase in consumption of flavoured milks, sports drinks, energy drinks and other types of beverages.
"Therefore, the need to reduce the consumption of sugary beverages is now greater than ever."
Eric Crampton, chief economist at the New Zealand Initiative, says the review found many often-recommended measures, like healthier vending machines, sales restrictions and menu-board calorie labelling have little evidentiary base.
“Improved access to low-calorie beverages in the home environment reduced SSB consumption, but many included studies focused on places without reliable access to clean drinking water."
When sugary drinks are made more expensive, or sugar-free alternatives made cheaper, sales fall, the researchers found.
"The evidence is unequivocal... you put up the price, consumption goes down," NZ Dental Association spokesperson Rob Beaglehole told The AM Show.
The separate report looking at the evidence on sugar taxes is due to come out in late 2019.
The SMC gathered expert reaction on the review.