Super sugar shockers: Sum

28 January 2014

While Australians look for ways to keep cool this summer, many fast food chains are cashing in by promoting seductively cheap frozen drinks that in many cases contain surprisingly large amounts of added sugar. With Australia's obesity epidemic showing no signs of slowing down, health groups are urging consumers to rethink their sugary drink.

Products and promotions like McDonald's ‘Frozen Sprite Splash' range with free refills and Hungry Jack's $1 deal on large frozen Cokes are being heavily marketed to Aussie consumers through comprehensive advertising campaigns and point-of-sale promotions.

According to Craig Sinclair, Director of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, a partner of Rethink Sugary Drink, people might rethink their frozen drinks if they knew how much sugar was in them.

A large frozen Sprite Splash from McDonald's followed by a free refill contains an astronomical 120 grams of sugar, equivalent to 30 teaspoons. A large frozen coke from Hungry Jack's includes about 84 grams, or 21 teaspoons of sugar, and will set customers back just $1. If consumers are feeling particularly thirsty, for one extra dollar they can upgrade to an extra large serve and be rewarded with a whopping 30 teaspoons of sugar, equivalent to the sugar content of ten fun size Mars Bars or three cans of Coke.

Mr Sinclair says many Australians are unaware of the health impacts of regularly consuming large quantities of sugar.

"We now know there is a clear link between drinking soft drinks regularly and weight gain and obesity, and of course being overweight or obese can lead to a myriad of chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, some cancers and poor dental health," said Mr Sinclair.

"The World Health Organisation (WHO), World Cancer Research Fund and Australian Dietary Guidelines all agree we need to limit the amount of added sugar in our diets and recommend that sugary drink consumption be restricted [1] or avoided altogether [2].

"Of course indulging in a frozen beverage on a hot summer's day can be very tempting, and as an occasional treat, this isn't a problem. However at a time when nearly two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese, actively promoting excessive consumption of such high-sugar products is completely irresponsible," he said.

Since 2003 the WHO has recommended limiting the intake of ‘free sugars' to 10% of total energy intake, referring to sugars added to food by the manufacturer, cook or consumer.

The Heart Foundation's CEO (Victoria) Diana Heggie says sugary drinks have little nutritional benefit and add lots of excess kilojoules.

"If an average man in his early 20s was to have one of these large frozen sugary drinks, it would be doubling his recommended daily amount of added sugar from just this single product [3]," she said.

"The reality is this would mean he would need to jog for 45 minutes to burn off all the empty kilojoules." [4]

Mr Sinclair believes consumers should be wary of marketing ploys that normalise the excessive consumption of high sugar products like frozen soft drinks.

"Fast food chains are in the business of making money, not in the business of health, and they have enormous marketing budgets to push this type of sugar-laden product into our diets," said Mr Sinclair.

"It's important for consumers to be aware of what they're drinking, including how much sugar is in these products and the potential detrimental impact to their health from high consumption. We encourage those who drink these sugar-filled beverages on a regular basis to switch to water or other sugar-free alternatives."

Approximate amounts of sugar in frozen drinks:

  • A McDonald's Frozen Sprite Splash plus free refill contains 120g (30 teaspoons) of sugar in total. 
  • A large Hungry Jack's Frozen Coke contains 84g (21 teaspoons) and an extra large serve has 120g (30 teaspoons) of sugar.
  • A large 7-Eleven Cola Slurpee contains 84g (21 teaspoons), a ‘super' size contains 115g (29 teaspoons) and a ‘mega' serving contains 152g (38 teaspoons) of sugar. 
  • A regular Frozen Coke at Donut King contains 1,070 kilojoules. Donut King does not disclose the amount of sugar in its frozen soft drinks range however it can be assumed the majority of these kilojoules come from added sugar. If so it would represent 62g (15 teaspoons) of sugar. 

  1. World Health Organisation. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. WHO Techical Report Series 916. Geneva 2003, page 68
  2. The World Cancer Research Fund and Amercian Institute for Cancer Research. Food Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC, AICR., 2007
  3. Calculation based on a 24 year old male who is 190cm and ~80kg with recommended energy intake of 9500kJ (Reference: NHMRC Nutrient Reference Values for Australians
    Calculation: 10% of 9500 = 950kJ  / 30 tsp sugar in 1 frozen drink = 2040kJ (1tsp = 68kJ) / therefore this is 2.1 times the recommended amount of 950kJ per day
  4. Based on 24 year male exercising at 8kmph for 45 minutes. Calculator (using Harris Benedict equation):