Issue 526, 14 Jun 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Sugary drink interventions – what works?

Expert Q&A:  Law changes to cannabis

New from the SMC global network

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.

Quoted: Stuff

"For the first time, we've recovered the volcanic material. If people weren't convinced last year, they will be now."

University of Waikato volcanologist Dr Adrian Pittari on finding evidence confirming the existence of a volcanic cone at Karaka.

The changing drug market

A promised referendum on recreational cannabis next year has raised questions on what a legal, regulated cannabis market might look like.

The proposed regulated market would include:

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis
  • Regulations and commercial supply controls
  • Limited home-growing options
  • A public education programme.
Experts say these potential law changes will impact the wider drugs market and may have flow-on impacts on the supply of synthetic drugs, which are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of about 65 people.

Dr Marta Rychert of Massey's Shore & Whāriki Research Centre says it's uncertain how drug dealers will respond to legislation, but her team recently found that illegal drug users think it is now easier to get methamphetamine than cannabis.

"If cannabis is legalised, some of these users will exit the black market altogether, potentially reducing the customer base.

“On the other hand, some suggest that legalisation of cannabis may encourage use of other drugs. However, it remains debatable to what extent new legal cannabis users would seek other drugs on the illegal drug markets.”

Dr Rychert says we should consider alternative approaches to a commercial market model - such as cannabis social clubs like those used in Belgium, Spain and Uruguay, where users can register and grow their cannabis for a small fee.

Dr Geoff Noller from the University of Otago said law changes to recreational cannabis may affect the medicinal market, as the legislative amendment governing medicinal use was limited. 

"Therefore, unless it is revised, it’s probable that those wanting to use cannabis therapeutically will access what they need via the commercial non-medical market."

Associate Professor Joe Boden said the effects of legalisation would be transformative for the wider drugs market and drug user statistics. 

“If cannabis is legalised for recreational use, synthetics (particularly synthetic cannabis) will likely disappear from the market.”

The SMC asked experts to discuss how potential legislative changes might change the drugs market.

What's coming in SAVVY 

It's the last day to apply for two video workshops we're running in Auckland later this month and applications have opened for our next 2-day SAVVY workshops.

These video workshops (produced in collaboration with Baz Caitcheon) focus on giving scientists the tools and skills to communicate their research in short videos aimed at an online audience.

We’ll show you to how to develop a video concept and give you tips on the best ways to shoot, edit and distribute your video content. In the weeks following, Baz will mentor you to help you produce your first science video.
26 June - 9am-1pm
Massey University, Albany - Apply now

27 June - 9am-1pm
University of Auckland - Apply now

Note: this workshop is being run primarily for the University of Auckland Science PostDoc Society - society members will be given preference, but others are welcome to apply.

The workshops are free to attend, but the best applicants will be selected based on the video concepts outlined in the application form. 

University and CRI researchers get top priority. Communications staff are also encouraged to apply.

More information is available on the SMC website. Applications close midnight, 14 June.

Upcoming SAVVY two-day workshops

Our flagship two-day media training course returns to Wellington and Auckland for two final Science Media SAVVY courses for 2019.

August 29-30

November 21-22  

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public. 

These workshops are ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 

Apply now

Policy news & developments

Dairy industry boost: A $25.68 million innovation programme for the industry aims to help drive sustainable milk production.
Animal surgery consultation: MPI is seeking feedback on proposed rules to make it clearer about who can do what to animals. 

Fungicide application: Consultation is open on an application to import or manufacture Amicus as a fungicide to control club root and powdery scab.

Partnerships Investment: Four new sector-led research partnerships will receive funding of $14.4 million over the next seven years.

Dam safety: MBIE has opened consultation on proposed safety regulations for New Zealand's large dams.

DHB monitor: A Crown Monitor has been appointed to support Canterbury DHB, which has the largest deficit of any DHB in the country.

Gracefield upgrade: The Gracefield Innovation Quarter is set to get an update with the Government investing $75 million in the site.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Establishing fitness to stand trial as the first step in Christchurch attack court process
Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato

Children have fun playing sports and don’t need to satisfy adults’ ambitions
Simon Walters and Chris Whatman, Auckland University of Technology

How New Zealand’s well-being budget delivers for the environment
Troy Baisden, University of Waikato

Australia’s discussion of kava imports reflects lack of cultural understanding
Apo Aporosa, University of Waikato

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Meaty issue: NZ's place in a cow-disrupted future
In a world seeing the rise of meatless meat, how does a redblooded meat-opia like Aotearoa promote what's being labelled clean-meating, asks Jamie Morton, for this NZ Herald Premium feature.

Yes, we are the Stolen Generations 
As Oranga Tamariki attempts to engage a legal battle with Newsroom over its coverage of the agency uplifting a newborn baby, PhD candidate and journalist Aaron Smale gives his deeply personal account of being removed from his mother, and the legacy of loss and harm that reverberates through the generations.

Buried report’s hard truths for regional councils
Why did a report on the performance of the country’s environmental watchdogs drop on Budget day? Perhaps because of the criticism it contained, Newsroom's David Williams writes.

Is race science making a come back?
Radio NZ's Kathryn Ryan speaks with award-winning British journalist Angela Saini, whose latest book exposes and challenges race science, which she says is making a subtle come-back.

What is the deadly disease threatening New Zealand's weirdest bird?
Brittney Deguara looks at the respiratory fungal disease aspergillosis, which has claimed the lives of seven kākāpō in just three months and threatens to undo recent conservation gains.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
The mothers of invention

In the latest addition to Sciblogs, staff at the Productivity Commission discuss ideas around their ongoing Technological change and the future of work inquiry.
I had an accident

Brendan Moyle talks about exactly what happened to his body when he was knocked off his bike at an Albany roundabout.
Chthonic Wildlife Ramblings

What happened to the Neandethals?

Students often raise this question when discussing evolution, and Alison Campbell says a new paper offers some answers.

Connecting comets and rubber

Duncan Steel marks his birthday with a post on how Skellerup red bands and comets are linked.
Out of Space

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details. 
  • Microplastics clean-up: 16 June, Auckland. The University of Auckland will host a clean-up day at Little Shoal Bay, which doubles as part of a project looking at how microplastics influence ecosystem functions.
  • The sound of silence: 18 June, Auckland. Tony Tse from Auckland's Bioengineering Institute talks about tools for helping us detect underwater sounds like crawling crabs.
  • Pacific reset: 18 June, Wellington. Dr Anna Powles discusses the contested neighbourhood: New Zealand’s Pacific policy in a time of geopolitics.
  • The chemistry of food: 20 June, Hamilton. Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris will offer examples of how chemicals that comprise food can be both beneficial to human health and a selling point for the food industry.
  • Gut health: 19 June, Hamilton. Chiefs Dietician Rebecca Johns dispels some of the myths and provide clarity on gut health and sustainable nutrition.
  • How do we get to clean energy? 20 June, Wellington. International renewable energy and green finance expert Michael Liebreich talks about the policy settings required for a clean energy future.
  • Laser scanning history: 20 June, Dunedin. Richard Hemi, from the University of Otago discusses a project that laser scanned the NZETC WWI tunnels of Arras, France
  • The flexitarian way: 20 June, Dunedin. Visiting Professor Rickey Yada discusses the environmental pitfalls and solutions from shifting to plant-based or flexitarian diets. 
  • Solstice at the planetarium: 21 June, Dunedin. Stargaze from the warmth and comfort of the Beverley Begg Observatory on the longest night of the year. 
  • Night lights: 21-23 June, Auckland. Explore MOTAT aglow with artistic installations designed by up-and-coming NZ artists inspired by items from the museum's collection.

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