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Sugary drinks, also known as sugar-sweetened beverages, are the major source of sugars consumed by children and young people in New Zealand. These include any beverage that has added sugar such as carbonated or fizzy drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks and juices, powdered drinks, cordial and flavoured waters. The consumption of sugary drinks is associated with dental caries, weight gain and obesity. Dental caries is a significant health problem in New Zealand. Good oral health is not only a vital component of general health but also a basic human right.

As the leading professional organisation in oral health, the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) is committed to improve the oral health of all New Zealanders.  Dentists see the effects of poor oral health every day in their practices, and are familiar with the negative effects of oral diseases on individuals’ quality of life. Dentists have a key role to play through advocacy at both national and local government level and contribute towards the development of strategies that address the drivers of poor oral health. They are also well positioned within their local communities, to advocate for oral health by lobbying and health education among general public.   

However, dentists alone cannot find solutions to address poor oral health. The NZDA recognizes the challenges and complexity involved in addressing the drivers of poor oral health. A multi-sector collaborative approach is required to address the environmental drivers of poor oral health. 

The NZDA and its partner organisations support and endorse the following actions to inform the public about the negative health impacts of sugary drinks and to advocate for population-wide strategies to reduce sugary drink consumption.

  1. Joint advocacy campaign aimed at Government and the beverage industry to introduce a sugar icon on the packaging of all sugary drinks to indicate the amount of sugar in each product in teaspoons.
  2. Introduction of mandatory regulation of marketing of sugary drinks to children through independent monitoring and evaluation of food marketing, especially at times and places frequented by children such as children’s sports and events.
  3. Introduction of daily allowance for the intake of free sugars for New Zealanders, in line with the recommendations from the WHO.
  4. Encourage the public to switch their sugary drinks to water by;
    • introduction of warning labels linking overconsumption of sugary drinks to poor health.
    • expansion of successful nation-wide social marketing campaigns such as ‘Switch to Water’.
  5. Encourage schools and early learning services to adopt ‘water-only’ policies.
  6. Development of policies by local government to introduce ‘water-only’ policies at council venues, events and limit the sale of sugary drinks in and around schools.
  7. Joint advocacy campaign, aimed at government, to introduce an excise tax on sugary drinks consistent with the WHO guidelines. 

Sugary drinks are unique in that they have no nutritional value, they contribute empty calories and replace healthier beverage options. They are also extremely acidic. Sugary drinks are no longer a looming public health crisis, but a very real one. By working together, and acting now, we can prevent not only oral health damage, but obesity – a leading risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.