More than a third of Kiwis believe fizzy and other sugary drinks should be taxed, a Southern Cross Health Society survey indicates.
Of 2021 people polled, 63 per cent thought they should eat less sugar.
Thirty-nine per cent agreed that fizzy and other sugar-sweetened drinks should be taxed.
The survey also found 73 per cent of respondents thought sugar was contributing to New Zealand's obesity problems.
Professor Jim Mann of the University of Otago said knowing what people thought about sugar and possible obesity taxes was important. He thought 39 per cent support for a tax on sugary drinks was "quite high" and it was good that people were aware of sugar contributing to obesity.
"These things always take a long time to get through. We are now at a stage where the Government thinks that smoking is a top health priority, but it's taken 40 years," he said.
"Given that a few years ago no one cared about sugar, it's moved quite quickly. I think it's pretty impressive."
Professor Mann, a member of the World Health Organisation's expert advisory panel on nutrition, said though he supported a sugar tax, he did not think it would happen in New Zealand.
He said clear product labelling - so people knew exactly how much sugar they were consuming - combined with education on sugar was the first step towards reducing sugar intake.
Energy-dense junk foods should not be advertised to children, Professor Mann said.
The WHO's draft sugar intake guideline suggests adults cut their daily intake of "free sugar" - that added to foods, rather than naturally occurring in fruit, vegetables and milk - to below 5 per cent of their total energy intake.
New Zealand Nutrition Foundation dietician Sarah Hanrahan said people needed to remember that not all sugars were bad.
"Sugar occurs naturally in many foods like milk and fruit. This sugar is called intrinsic sugar and usually comes packaged with many other valuable nutrients. It is the free sugars found in processed foods that cause the most concern."
Southern Cross Health Society chief executive Peter Tynan said that though the results showed people knew to eat less sugar, they were not necessarily keen to do it.
"New Zealand is seeing a rise in chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, and sugar intake is linked to all these, as well the obvious dental conditions such as gum disease and tooth decay."
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has, in the past, said he would not be keen to introduce a sugar tax.
The Southern Cross online survey of randomly selected New Zealanders by market research company TNS was conducted last September.
It had a margin of error of 2.2 per cent and responses were weighted to be representative of the New Zealand over-15 population by age, gender and region.
How much sugar should we consume?
The draft World Health Organisation sugar intake guideline proposes that sugars should be less than 10 per cent of our total energy intake per day. It suggests that a reduction to below 5 per cent of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.
How much sugar is that?
Five per cent of total energy intake is equivalent to 25 grams (about six teaspoons) of sugar a day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index.
What kind are there?
The limits apply to all monosaccharides (such as glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. They do not apply to sugars in milk, fruit and vegetables.
How can I reduce intake?
Sugar is often associated with high-fat food. Have cakes, biscuits and chocolate bars occasionally. Look for sugar on food labels. Sugar is sometimes called fructose, glucose, sucrose or honey. If you are trying to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, make sure you don't increase the amount of sugar you eat.
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