New Zealanders appear to be developing a taste for a sugar tax on soft drinks, according to new poll results.
Polls carried out by a group of doctors found support for such a tax - where money would go back into fighting childhood obesity - had grown from 44 per cent to 52 per cent in 18 months.
In a letter published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Dr Gerhard Sundborn from the University of Auckland's School of Population Health said the increase was noteworthy.
"A significant shift has occurred in New Zealanders' appetite for a tax on SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages], if the funds collected are to be used to prevent childhood obesity," Dr Sundborn said.
The paper was co-authored by Dr Simon Thornley, Dr Bodo Lang and Dr Rob Beaglehole and was prepared on behalf of the FIZZ organisation (Fighting Sugar in Soft Drinks New Zealand), a public health advocacy group established by researchers to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in New Zealand to zero by 2025.
In the first poll in February last year, 44 per cent of respondents supported a tax on sugary drinks while in the second poll, in June this year, support had increased to 52 per cent.
"Interestingly, there was an even stronger drop in people who opposed a tax on SSBs," Dr Sundborn said.
Opposition to an SSB tax decreased relatively by 35 per cent from 49 per cent in February 2014 to 32 per cent in June 2015.
"This indicates a significant shift in public attitude towards the taxation of SSBs, because a quarter of respondents [25 per cent] moved to a more supportive, or less opposed, stance about the introduction of an SSB tax."
He said the speed at which public opinion had shifted in favour of an SSB tax indicated that New Zealanders were more aware of the harms SSBs pose to health, especially for children. Labour and the Greens had expressed support for a sugar tax, but National has no plans for such initiatives.
Focus goes on Pasifika
The health effects of sugary drinks and possible strategies to reduce their intake will be the focus of a public health experts' conference next month.
The one-day conference - Sugary Drink Free Aotearoa by 2025 - at Manukau Institute of Technology on October 7 will focus on Maori and Pacific communities. It will include a panel discussion led by Boyd Swinburn, a professor of population nutrition and global health at Auckland University and the director of the World Health Organisation's collaborating centre for obesity prevention.