Sugar-sweetened beverages should be regulated like tobacco as a first step to combating New Zealand's obesity epidemic, the Public Health Association Conference was told today in New Plymouth.
Gerhard Sundborn, from Auckland University, has proposed an 'end-game' strategy for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in New Zealand.
Based on the current tobacco end-game, which aims to see New Zealand smokefree by 2025, the SSB equivalent would see a heavy decrease in the amount of sugar New Zealanders consume in drinks.
"There's no denying obesity has become an epidemic, but there are currently no strategic plans to fight it. By regulating the sugar content in beverages we'll be taking the first step to combating this global health problem," he said.
"Current initiatives designed to address this issue have proven ineffective, and data suggests our sugar intake is continuing to rise.
"Just like tobacco, evidence also suggests many New Zealanders are addicted to sugar. People coming off a high sugar diet can often experience withdrawal symptoms, which is another reason these drinks need to be regulated."
The end-game strategy would see a reduction in SSBs in favour of artificially sweetened beverages, which aren't as detrimental health. In time, these too would decrease in favour of healthier unsweetened drinks like water and milk.
"One idea is to introduce vending machine policies around the country. Waitemata District Health Board has implemented its own policy, which sees all vending machines in hospitals and clinics in the area free from SSBs in favour of healthier alternatives."
"There's also the suggestion of a tax on SSBs, though that may prove hard to implement."