Most NZers back curbs on sugar use

A majority of Kiwi adults have shown some support in a survey for controls on how much sugar can be fed to us by the soft-drink industry.

Forty-six per cent said there should "definitely" be limits on sugar in drinks and a further 32 per cent said there should "possibly" be such limits - more than 75 per cent in total.

In contrast, far fewer people supported a tax on the sugar content of drinks, with 18 per cent saying "definitely" and 26 per cent "possibly" - 44 per cent combined.

Forty per cent said the sugar content of takeaways should definitely or possibly be taxed, and 59 per cent definitely or possibly favoured a reduction in the serving sizes of sugar drinks.

The survey of 3451 respondents from an online panel was commissioned and done by Horizon Research. The results were weighted by age, gender, ethnicity, educational qualifications, employment status and party voted for at the 2011 elections to provide a representative sample. The maximum margins of error were 1.7 per cent up or down.

It was the first scientific opinion poll of the public's views on policies to control sugar intake, said Horizon principal Graeme Colman.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said his Government had no plans to introduce a sugar tax or sugar restrictions.

Coca-Cola New Zealand said: "Government regulation, such as a limit on sugar in drinks, cannot solve the obesity crisis."

The company's commitments in helping to deal with obesity include offering more low-energy drinks.

"Today nearly one in three of our soft drinks purchased does not contain sugar, and volumes of our low-kilojoule beverages continue to increase," the company said.

"Twenty-five per cent of our entire range of beverages is low or no kilojoule. Volumes of our sugar-sweetened range are in decline."

The final day of the three-week survey period, last Friday, coincided with the release of the first study assessing the New Zealand mortality impact of a 20 per cent tax on fizzy drinks. It found such a tax could avert or postpone 67 deaths a year, which is 0.2 per cent of all deaths.

Some groups in New Zealand, notably young men, consume far more sugar than recommended by the World Health Organisation, although there is debate among researchers about how much sugar New Zealanders consume.

A university-based advocacy group, Fighting Sugar in Soft Drinks or FIZZ, is calling for the "end game" of sugar-sweetened drinks, with policies such as taxes and banning sugar drinks from hospitals.

But FIZZ also wants to work with the soft-drink industry and has lauded some of Coca-Cola's anti-obesity efforts as "small steps in the right direction".

Should restrictions be imposed to limit sugar in drinks?

45.7% definitely

31.5% possibly

5.3% possibly not

13.1% definitely not

4.4% not sure

Source: Horizon Research online survey

- Martin Johnston of the New Zealand Herald

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