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New Zealand Health Experts See Endgame For Soft Drinks In Pacific
Health experts from around the Pacific, UK and US gathered in Auckland last week to discuss how to make the region sugary drink free by 2030 and break the sugar addiction that is bringing heart disease, diabetes, rotten teeth and other ailments to Pacific communities.
"We found that Pacific island nations are probably more advanced when it comes to soft drink regulations than we are in New Zealand," Dr Gerhard Sundborn, a honorary research fellow in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Auckland, told Xinhua news agency.
Tokelau, a tiny nation of just 12 square kilometres, had banned the sale of sugary drinks on two of its three atolls since 2009.
Samoa, French Polynesia, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Fiji had all at some stage introduced taxes ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent on soft drinks.
The effects of taxes on public health and soft drink consumption had not been evaluated, but a University of Auckland study this month estimated that a 20-percent tax on sugary drinks in New Zealand could save 67 lives each year and raise 40 million NZ dollars (US$33.27 million) to spend on public health programmes.
Sugary drinks were a huge threat to public health in the smaller Pacific islands where drinking tap water was "not an option."
"You can't get drinking water fresh from the tap in some islands and it can be cheaper to buy a soft drink out of a fridge than it is to buy water," Sundborn said in a phone interview.
"Islands in the Pacific region are more susceptible to unhealthy products and sugary drinks have been part of that. Companies have been known to dump products in the islands at a low cost if they can't sell them elsewhere," he said.
"Their systems for health protection and advocacy are not quite so developed as ours."
Sundborn and other health experts have formed an advocacy group called Fighting Sugar in Softdrinks (FIZZ) to end the sale of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, which they believe are addictive like cigarettes.
FIZZ was using the same tactics devised by anti-tobacco campaigners in recent decades, which have led to the government officially aiming for a tobacco-free New Zealand by 2025.
Developed nations needed to draw up guidelines on the sale of unhealthy products to developing nations and international trade regulations should be redrawn to allow developing nations to refuse unhealthy products, said Sundborn.
The group's other methods to curb consumption included working with industry to encourage manufacturers to bring out non-sugar alternative drinks and raising public awareness of the physical damage caused by sugar.
"I think people know that sugar and sugary drinks are generally not good for you, but I don't think they really understand the harm they can do," Sundborn said.
news coverage in our Newswire service.
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