Graphic sugary drinks ad hits home health messages to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: new research

20 November 2018

Health groups call for more public education campaigns to tackle obesity

A graphic ad depicting members of the Aboriginal community consuming pure sugar and a young girl with rotten teeth has been shown to be effective in encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to reduce their intake of sugary drinks, prompting calls from health experts for more public education campaigns.

Evaluation of the ad, You wouldn’t eat 16 teaspoons of sugar, which was developed by the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and Cancer Council Victoria and featured as part of the LiveLighter campaign, has revealed over half of those who saw the ad reported cutting down on the sweet stuff.

Louise Lyons, Director of the Public Health and Research Unit, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), said these results demonstrate the cut through and value of having ads directed primarily at an Aboriginal audience.

“Over half of people who saw the ad cut down on their sugary drink intake. They also agreed it had an important message for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population,” Ms Lyons said. “Because this ad was developed in consultation with local Aboriginal people, it delivers a relevant and culturally appropriate message to our communities – sugary drinks are not good for our health and to go for water instead.”

To evaluate the campaign, 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were surveyed to compare attitudes, receptiveness and behaviour change as a result of the campaign between Victorian communities and respondents from other states and territories.

The evaluation found:

  • 52% of respondents reported that they had seen ads on TV about the health effects of sugary drinks.
  • Of these, 78% were able to recall, without being prompted, some aspects of the Aboriginal and/or the Live Lighter ads.
  • 60% of respondents who had seen the Aboriginal sugary drink ads reported cutting down on sugary drinks. 

Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, Craig Sinclair said the results highlighted the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health promotion campaigns, with messages tailored to the local community.

“Two-thirds of added sugar in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ diets comes from sugary drinks, and they are three times more likely to die from type 2 diabetes than other Australians1.”

“In order to reverse this trend we need to invest in public education campaigns that feature, are developed in consultation with and are tailored to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences.”

The ad portrays an Aboriginal family watching TV, focusing on a young girl about to take a sip from a sugary drink can. She tips the can upside down to reveal a stream of sugar spilling out.

The camera pans out to reveal her whole family hungrily devouring spoonfuls of pure sugar with girl’s younger sister smiling at her, exposing a mouth full of rotten teeth. The ad then changes to the alternative, depicting the family choosing water as a healthy alternative.

The Aboriginal sugary drink ad launched online in January 2015 and aired on NITV in October 2015 as part of the then-Government‐funded LiveLighter campaign.

The ad was developed in Victoria and featured members of the Victorian Aboriginal community. Another LiveLighter ad targeting the general population was broadcast over the same period.

Online surveys were completed by 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in November and December 2015.

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1 Lee, A., Ride, K, Review of nutrition among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin, vol. 18, no. 1, January – March 2018   

About Rethink Sugary Drink: Rethink Sugary Drink is a partnership between the Apunipima Cape York Health Council, Australian Dental Association, Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists’ Association, Cancer Council Australia, Dental Health Services Victoria, Dental Hygienists Association of Australia, Diabetes Australia, Healthier Workplace WA, Kidney Health Australia, LiveLighter, The Mai Wiru Sugar Challenge Foundation, Nutrition Australia, Obesity Policy Coalition, Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons, Stroke Foundation, Parents’ Voice, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the YMCA to raise awareness of the amount of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages and encourage Australians to reduce their consumption. Visit for more information.