Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Obesity campaigners pleased at council's fizzy-drink ban

The Auckland Council has become the latest big body to ban fizzy drinks from its buildings. The bold move has been applauded by a leading obesity researcher.

Council chief executive Stephen Town this morning announced that the council's 21 leisure centres would be dropping sugar-sweetened drinks from vending machines.

"It just doesn't fit to sell sugary drinks in places where we are trying to support healthier lifestyles."

The amount of refined sugar being slashed from 15 machines - three quarters of the drinks would be dropped - was equivalent to 340kg each year, or 85,000 sugar cubes.
In their place would be water, unflavoured milk, 100 per cent fruit juice and diluted fruit juice with no added sugar.

"We're not telling people what to drink, but we are offering them better choices in our facilities that are focused on health," Town said.

The roll-out would happen before October this year, and all centres would be healthier choices in time for the peak summer season.

The council operates or licences out the operation of a number of other food operations, within leisure centres and elsewhere.

"We are having ongoing discussions with relevant partners and suppliers over the provision of healthy choices across all areas of council operations."

Professor Boyd Swinburn, professor of population nutrition and global health at the University of Auckland, called the new ban an "excellent move".

"It shows leadership in trying to improve the health of the people it has some responsibility for," he said.

"I think it will have an effect and it's part of a wave that's building very strongly, first in hospitals and DHBs, then in schools, and now in councils. I think this is excellent institutional role modelling."

But what effect it would have on obesity rates would be difficult to tell, given the multiple factors and complex nature of tackling the problem.

"It's not going to be fixed just by a council banning sugary drinks, so I think you need to have some degree of realistic expectations about what it can deliver in terms of impacts.
"But what it certainly can deliver is changing norms and changing attitudes about what is an appropriate food environment.

"Just in the way that it's now not appropriate to light up cigarettes inside buildings and offices, it's just become the norm."

The move has also been backed by Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura, whose manager Ben Youdan said local and industry leadership was key to addressing sugar-related health issues.

"Auckland Council is a lead partner in our local Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura movement," he said.

"This is a fantastic demonstration of their strong commitment to drive transformative changes that will positively affect the health of our communities."

Most of the council vending machines are in South Auckland, in a legacy from pre-amalgamation days.

Otara resident and world amateur and national bodyboard champion Mihi Nemani also supported the change.

"Replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with healthier options makes complete sense and will help to endorse the whole healthy mindset," he said.

"Cheap fizzy drinks are readily available in our local shops at prices that undercut any healthy option.

"This decision by the council is helping to remove another obstacle for our community in spaces that are trying to encourage and support healthier lifestyles."

- NZ Herald

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