Soft-drink giant Coca-Cola is defending its brand as health experts call for a ban on sugar-sweetened drinks linked to obesity, type-2 diabetes, addiction and tooth decay.
New Zealand representatives from the global company will front up at a conference on Tuesday organised by FIZZ - a group of doctors and health experts who aim to make New Zealand free of sugar-sweetened drinks by 2025.
In an opinion piece in today's Weekend Herald, Country Manager of Coca-Cola Oceania, Sandhya Pillay, confirms she will represent Coca-Cola at the annual conference.
She argues obesity can not be blamed on sugary-drinks alone and that focusing on just one food or drink is not a solution.
"As a leader in the food and beverage industry, Coca-Cola has a role to play in helping decrease obesity, but we cannot provide the answer and we definitely cannot solve this issue alone," she said.
"What might surprise you is that while Kiwis are already consuming fewer sugar-sweetened drinks each year, obesity rates in New Zealand are still climbing."
Pillay said the best approach to help reduce obesity was to give people choice and information, rather than product bans, increased taxes on families and individuals or through more regulation.
Other Coca-Cola owned brands include L&P, Coca-Cola Zero, Diet Coke, Powerade, Pump, Fanta, Sprite, Rose's Cordial, Keri Juice and Schweppes.
The group of doctors, dentists and specialists that belong to Fizz say the evidence linking sugary drinks to poor health, rotten teeth, gout, cardiovascular disease and premature death is so strong it can not be ignored.
The Fizz Symposium is in its third year with key-note speakers from New Zealand and abroad discussing health issues, soft-drinks in schools and a possible tax on sugary drinks.
Founder Dr Gerhard Sundborn said a tax on sugary drinks would force businesses to invest in more sugar-free versions and raise public awareness.
He wants soft-drinks and sugary juices banned in school cafeterias and said sugary drinks contribute 26 per cent of sugar in a child's diet and about 20 per cent in adults.
"We believe sugar should be prioritised over everything else," he said.
"Those drinks are the single biggest products which put sugar into our diet. If you target them, you'll target the big ticket item."
Dr Sundborn said the one-day symposium called "Toward a sugary drink-free Aotearoa" would discuss the rationale and likelihood of a tax on sugary drinks.
"The panel will discuss whether a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is a solution to reducing unhealthy weight gain, obesity and diabetes," he said.
"There are a number of studies which show sugar-sweetened beverages to be an independent risk factor in the development of obesity, unhealthy weight, diabetes and rotten teeth."
Dr Sundborn said it was positive that representatives from drink giants Frucor and Coca-Cola were attending the event.
He said both companies had introduced reduced sugar products which was a step in the right direction.
"We see the industry as an important part of the solution, working together we can accomplish far more. We're not fighting them," he said.
"Hopefully they will increase their sugar-free product range and promote the sugar-free products as flagship products."
Dr Sundborn hoped the Symposium would raise awareness and strengthen public support for a sugar tax.
"Government listen to polls, it can tend to create policy, especially when they think it could stand to lose votes over it."
•Sugary drinks contribute 26 per cent of sugar in a child's diet and about 20 per cent in adults.
•This is the third Fizz Symposium
•One hundred people expected to attend
•Symposium will launch a "no sugary drinks" logo
•Aims to have sugary-drinks banned in schools and for New Zealand to be sugary-drink free by 2025
•Aims to have sugary-drinks taxed