New Zealand's biggest consumers of sugary drinks are leaning towards putting a tax on their fizz, a new poll has revealed.

The UMR poll, commissioned by the University of Auckland, found that 80 per cent New Zealanders aged between 18 and 30 were in favour of a sugar tax, up from 65 per cent last year.

And 75 per cent of Pacific and Asia communities also supported the tax with the revenue being directed to fund child obesity programmes. The survey covered 600 people aged over 18, and had a 4 per cent margin of error.

"This was a huge surprise because both groups were by far the largest adult consumers of soft drinks," public health researcher Dr Gerhard Sundborn said.

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Sundborn - who started lobby group FIZZ - said the sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) tax was a vital component of any strategy to address the third highest obesity rate in the world that New Zealand holds in both children and adults.

But Minister David Clark told the Weekend Herald the Government had no plans for a sugar tax and had ruled one out for this term of Parliament.

Minister for health Dr David Clark says industry needs to be given the chance to step up before jumping to regulate. Photo / File
Minister for health Dr David Clark says industry needs to be given the chance to step up before jumping to regulate. Photo / File

Instead, he had been meeting with food industries and setting clear expectations that business and the Government would work together on this issue.

"We want to give the industry the chance to step up and make positive change, rather than immediately jump to regulate," he said.

Beverage giant Frucor - who owned brands such as V, Pepsi and Ribena - said they didn't believe a sugar tax was needed as the New Zealand beverage industry was already reducing the sugar that Kiwis consume from beverages.

"We recognise that we have a role to play in encouraging healthier beverage choices. We are taking voluntary, practical action, including a commitment to reducing sugar by 10 per cent across our portfolio by 2020 and a further 10 per cent by 2025," a Frucor spokeswoman said.

She said this year, they had launched Amplify kombucha, which has less than 1g of sugar per 100mL, NZ Natural Sparkling flavoured waters, which have no sugar and no artificial flavours and Pepsi Max Vanilla, with zero sugar.

"We've also reformulated OVI, reducing sugar by 50% so it now has just 2g per 100mL and Oh! sodas, which have less than 2g of sugar per 100mL, and we reduced sugar in V Pure by 10 per cent."

The poll comes ahead of New Zealand's sixth annual Sugary Drinks and Public Health
symposium in Auckland on Thursday.

Professor Martin White, from the University of Cambridge, will give a detailed account via a video link of the results from the UK Sugary Drinks Tax implemented in April this year.

Sundborn said although the tax was implemented this year the legislation had been announced two years ago.

"In anticipation of the tax, industries reformulated their drinks and by the time the tax was implemented already the industry had formulated out 30,000 tonnes of sugar. "

When the tax was announced, it was expected to raise around $1 billion in the first year. However because drink recipes changed and sugar levels cut, the projection fell to $500 million.

But analyst Jenesa Jeram from the New Zealand Initiative, a policy think tank, said this reformulation was not a public win but rather showed businesses were savvy.

Public health researcher Dr Gerhard Sundborn is lobbying the Government to put a tax on sugary drinks. Photo / File
Public health researcher Dr Gerhard Sundborn is lobbying the Government to put a tax on sugary drinks. Photo / File

"A win for public health would be if consumers significantly reduced their overall sugar intake, and we don't have evidence of that."

Jeram said rates of childhood obesity and tooth decay were concerning and ought to be addressed, but public health experts were going down the wrong path with their relentless advocacy of a sugar tax.

"We need more public health initiatives at the community level, that are responsive to the needs of that particular community, and which take a holistic approach that is not just about physical health but overall wellbeing."

New Zealand's obesity and dental decay rates

• Around 33 per cent of New Zealand's children are overweight or obese.

• Around 66 per cent of adults in New Zealand are overweight or obese.

• New Zealand has the third highest childhood and obesity rates in the world.

• Pasifika communities were three times more likely to experience obesity.

• More than 96,000 New Zealand children had their teeth extracted last year, and more than 7,500 required dental treatment under general anaesthetic.

• Removing children's teeth costs New Zealand $30million per year.