Australians slip up on their sugary drink knowledge


A new LiveLighter survey of more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-55[1] has revealed that although many Aussies are hooked on sugary drinks, some are confused when it comes to identifying which beverages are laden with excess sugar.

Less than half of Australian adults (48%) included flavoured water in their definition of a sugary drink, while a third (33%) failed to identify flavoured milks as a sugary drink.

This compares to the majority (93%) who correctly identified soft drink as a sugary drink.

Results also revealed some Aussies failed to identify sports drinks (28%) and fruit drinks (27%) as sugary drinks.

The latest findings from the annual Shape of Australia survey will be presented today at the Cancer Council’s Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference in Perth.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Healthy Lifestyles Campaign Manager, Alison McAleese, said although concerning, Australians’ misinformed view of sugary drinks wasn’t surprising given the big beverage brands’ sneaky marketing tactics.

“Its clear beverage manufacturers knowingly cherry pick the favourable features of their products, placing ‘health halos’ on these drinks. Because of this, Australians may think they’re making a healthy choice by choosing these drinks over soft drinks.”

“Given the size, added sugar content and expanding range of products and flavours available, many of us could be sipping down far more sugar than what we signed up for,” Ms McAleese said.

Today’s figures add weight to past LiveLighter analysis of flavoured water and flavoured milk varieties, that revealed that despite promoting functional and nutritional benefits, many exceeded the World Health Organization’s recommendation for total sugar intake in one (six teaspoons).[2],[3]

The new findings also reveal where Australians are getting their sugary fix – with more than four in five of us (81%) purchasing them in supermarkets, over a third (35%) buying them from fast food outlets and a quarter (27%) of us from restaurants, bars and cafes.

Ms McAleese suggested instore price promotions, product placement and unhealthy food and drink marketing could be some of the reasons why the vast majority of people are buying sugary drinks at the supermarket.

“When sugary drinks are often cheaper than water and big beverage brands coax shoppers into bulk buying sugary drinks with ‘money-saving’ deals, it’s no wonder Aussies keep loading their trolleys with these sugary beverages.”

LiveLighter WA’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager and Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Steve Pratt, is urging people to look beyond the health claims on these drinks and take the time to look at the nutritional information panels to see just how much sugar some drinks contain.

“People may be shocked to know some of these drinks have as many as 16 teaspoons of sugar. Water is always the best choice and your body will thank you for it in the long run,” Mr Pratt said. 

“Sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in Australian’s diets. In the long run they can lead to unhealthy weight gain, increasing the risk of serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease, stroke and 13 types of cancer.”

While encouraging Aussies to look beyond health and nutrition claims is a great start, LiveLighter is also calling for added sugar labelling to help people make healthier choices.

“Consumers have no clear way of knowing how much sugar has been added by looking at the label. It’s impossible to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and added sugar, making it difficult for people to make a healthy, informed choice,” Mr Pratt said.

“At a time when nearly seven in ten Australians are above a healthy weight, something has to change. There’s strong support for added sugar labelling with three quarters of Australians supporting the change – it’s time to give people the information they want and need,” said Mr Pratt.

About the Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference:

The Behavioural Research in Cancer Control conference is supported by Cancer Council Australia and will be hosted by Cancer Council WA. It runs from May 15 to 17. It brings together clinicians and researchers from across Australia to present the latest research on policies and programs that can ultimately decrease the burden of cancer.

[1] LiveLighter’s annual Shape of Australia survey analysed the health, nutrition and physical activity behaviours of more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-55.

[2] ‘Flavoured water: sugary liquid with a healthy spin’

[3] ‘A day’s worth of sugar in one hit’