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Soft drink consumption higher in Aboriginal communities: ABS report

7 April 2015

Soft drink consumption higher in Aboriginal communities: ABS report

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 2-3 years are three times more likely to drink soft drinks than non-Aboriginal children, new figures have revealed.

The Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey 2012-13i found that 18% of Aboriginal children aged 2-3 years had consumed soft drinks or flavoured mineral water on the day prior to the survey, compared with 5.8% of non-Aboriginal children.

Soft drink consumption was also high among the wider Aboriginal population, with 37% of Aboriginal people having consumed soft drinks and flavoured mineral water on the day before the survey, compared with 29% of non-Aboriginal Australians.

Louise Lyons, Director of the Public Health and Research Unit, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), and a proud Jaadwa woman from the western district, shares Victorian Aboriginal communities’ concerns regarding the consumption of these drinks on a regular basis.

“These figures highlight what we’ve known for some time – soft drink and other sugary drinks, such as flavoured mineral water and cordial, are quite popular among children and adults in many Aboriginal communities.

“Among a range of approaches, we need culturally appropriate and acceptable health messages for Aboriginal communities to show the health impacts of sugary drink consumption and encourage people to limit their intake.”

One such approach is an innovative video developed by Rethink Sugary Drink and VACCHO. The video stresses that there are around 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 600ml bottle of regular soft drink. This can lead to weight gain and obesity and increase the risk of many serious health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and some cancers.

Ms Lyons states “For children especially these sugary drinks can do serious damage and introduce them to unhealthy habits that are likely to stay with them for life. We’re encouraging our community to go for water instead.”

Dr Peter Alldritt, Chair of the Australian Dental Association's Oral Health Committee, also a Rethink Sugary Drink partner, says as well as weight-related health problems, sugary beverages are also bad for your teeth.

“These drinks have high levels of sugar which can significantly contribute to tooth decay. Equally important to understand is the erosion to tooth enamel which is caused by the acids in soft drink. The combination of these factors over time will cause cavities in your teeth which can be very painful and expensive to treat,” Dr Alldritt says.

“To keep your teeth healthy and reduce your risk of tooth decay it’s best to only drink sugary drinks every now and then, if at all.”

Luke Sultan is originally an Eastern Arrernte and Gurindji man who used to drink soft drinks a couple of times a week without thinking about his health.

He recently quit sugary drinks as part of a bigger lifestyle change, in which he lost over 30kgs through healthy eating and physical activity.

"When I first stopped drinking sugary drinks I felt like I was craving them. You could say it was like an addiction. When I didn't have one I would feel flat and felt like I had no energy and drinking diet soft drinks just felt a bit empty," the 38-year-old who now lives in Fitzroy says.

"But after about two or three weeks of doing it I was fine. It soon got to the point where I couldn't imagine going back to my old ways.”

About Rethink Sugary Drink: Rethink Sugary Drink is a partnership between Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia and Heart Foundation and aims to raise awareness of the amount of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages and encourage Australians to reduce their consumption. Rethink Sugary Drink is proudly supported by Australian Dental Association, Nutrition Australia, National Stroke Foundation, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), Obesity Policy Coalition, Dental Health Services Victoria, Kidney Health Australia and Dental Hygienists' Association of Australia.

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For media enquiries please contact: Shannon Crane at Cancer Council Victoria on 0432 157 270 or

i Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Nutrition Results - Food and Nutrients, 2012-13