Kiwis see sugar as public health enemy number one

Wednesday , 14 January 2015 by Aimee Bourke

New Zealanders appear to be getting the message that we can have too much of a good thing – sort of.

Results from Southern Cross Health Society’s annual health survey show that almost two thirds (63%) of respondents believe they should consume less sugar and 73% believe it is a contributing factor to the country’s obesity problems.

However, the research of over 2,000 New Zealanders, also found that despite high levels of agreement that sugary food and drinks are contributing to obesity in New Zealand, there is only moderate support for further government regulation of food (27% agreeing) or drinks (34% agreeing).

Likewise, there is only limited support for the government taxing food and drink:

  • 39% agree that sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks should be taxed
  • 34% agree that high sugar foods should be taxed
  • 26% agree that high fat foods should be taxed

Just over half believe that unhealthy foods and drinks should not be taxed

Peter Tynan, Southern Cross Health Society CEO, says the results show that while people hear the ‘eat less sugar’ message, many are yet to act on it and they don’t want change forced on them either.

“New Zealand is seeing a rise in chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, and sugar intake is linked to all these, as well the obvious dental conditions such as gum disease and tooth decay.

While sugar is only one contributing factor to these conditions, it’s clear that in the main, we do need to limit our intake of foods and drinks with added sugar,” he says.

Sarah Hanrahan, dietician for the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation agreed, adding that while we need to decrease our sugar intake, eliminating all sugar is unnecessary and the total health benefits of food need to be considered.

“Sugar occurs naturally in many foods like milk and fruit. This sugar is called intrinsic sugar and usually comes packaged with many other valuable nutrients. It is the added or ‘free sugars’ found in processed foods that cause the most concern.

“We need to think about the foods we eat with sugar added to them. Do they contain other good things, whole grains for example, fruits and vegetables? If so, choose these over the sugary drinks and foods which have no other nutrition benefits.”

Pleasingly, this year’s research showed energy and soft drink consumption was down on 2013 but 13% of people still say they drink them five or more days a week.

The research also showed that 24% of the population ate biscuits on five or more days of the week, and 17% ate chocolate or lollies just as often.



Editor note: Conducted by TNS on behalf of Southern Cross, the online survey of around 2,000 randomly selected New Zealanders was carried out in September 2014. Responses were weighted to be representative of the New Zealand over 15 population by age, gender and region.