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School loses sugar coating


The ACT Government has become the first in the nation to ban the sale of soft drink and fruit juices in public schools, drawing warm praise from the AMA and other health groups.

In a measure it hopes will help curb rising rates of overweight and obesity among ACT schoolchildren, the Government has announced that the sale of fruit juices and soft drinks from vending machines will be prohibited at all public schools in the Territory from the end of Term One this year, with a complete ban to be in place by the end of the 2014 school year.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said the ban sent a clear message that soft drinks and fruit juices should not be part of an everyday diet, and called on other governments and schools to take similar action.

“Soft drinks and fruit juices can be enjoyed occasionally as a treat, but there is no doubt that consuming these products daily is inconsistent with a healthy diet,” Dr Hambleton said. “Positioning these in schools so that they are available every day sends the wrong message.”

The ACT Government had originally planned to phase out sugary drinks at public schools over a five-year period by offering incentives for schools that agreed to stop selling them.

But late last year the Government toughened its stance following the release of data showing 63 per cent of ACT residents were overweight or obese, including more than 25 per cent of children.

Announcing the ban on 20 February, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said her Government had “a clear plan to reduce the amount of people who are overweight or obese, and a key way to achieve that is to reduce the availability of sugary drinks to children”.

“The evidence for us is very clear,” Ms Gallagher told the Canberra Times. “We’ve got to make this decision.”

The ACT Chief Minister flagged the possibility the ban would be extended to other Government-controlled facilities, such as hospitals and ACT Government departments.

Dr Hambleton said obesity was a major public health issue, and it was important to educate young people about healthy diets and exercise.

“The ACT Government has done a great job to show leadership in reducing the alarming rates of overweight and obesity in our young people,” the AMA President said, and called on non-government schools and other State and Territory governments to take similar steps.

“Further, initiatives such as the sugary drink ban need to be followed up with action from all governments to reduce the targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, simplify food labelling, and increase opportunities for physical activity among all children and adults,” he said.

The Public Health Association of Australia said the ACT Government should be given “full marks” for the sugary drinks ban in public schools.

President Professor Heather Yeatman said that, as an Associate Professor in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Wollongong, and as a mother of two children, “I know that sugary drinks are not necessary in anyone’s diet – on an occasional basis they may add variety or novelty, but they certainly are not an everyday choice”.

The measure has been criticised by the industry group Fruit Juice Australia.

The group’s Chief Executive Geoff Parker told the Canberra Times it was a “simplistic” approach that did not address the central issue of ensuring a balance between a child’s level of activity and their diet.

Adrian Rollins