When YMCA Victoria calculated the amount of sugary drinks it sold per annum equated to 28 tonnes of sugar, alarm bells rang.
‘It’s incongruous for the YMCA to sell 374,000 cans of soft drinks a year whilst simultaneously promoting healthy, happy lifestyles’ said Ari Kurzeme, YMCA Victoria Advocacy and Health Promotion Manager; ‘This led us to question the role we are playing in the eating preferences of the people and particularly kids who come to our Centres.’
In a landmark move, as part of the Healthy Food and Beverage Policy, it was decided that by 2017, all sugary drinks, including sports drinks, would be removed from YMCA Victoria’s 150 facilities.
‘Roughly 47 per cent of Australian children aged 2 to 16 consume a sugar-sweetened beverage every day’ said Ms Kurzeme; ‘Removing these drinks from our cafes and kiosks ensures that the 50,000 children who participate in YMCA swimming lessons on a weekly basis leave with a bottle of water rather than a lemonade.’
Over the 2015/16 summer, YMCA Victoria pledged to go soft drink free. Initial analysis of sales data indicates that sales have remained stable with people choosing a low or no sugar alternative to consume.
‘We hope that our positive experience of removing soft drinks from our facilities will encourage other organisations and particularly local governments to implement similar policies in recognition of the role they play in positively modelling healthy eating to Victorians’ said Kurzeme.
The move comes at an interesting time, as opposition to sugar gains momentum. The UK recently introduced a ‘sugar tax’ in a bid to stem the growth of childhood obesity, which is, in large part, attributed to the consumption of sugar-laden soft drinks, which are cheap and easily accessible by children.
Meanwhile, in Australia, a new study has shown that a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks would result in widespread, long-lasting public health benefits and significant health cost savings.
‘Our modelling scoped the effects over the lifetime of adult Australians alive in 2010. We found there would be 800 fewer new Type 2 diabetes cases each year once the tax was introduced. After 25 years, about 1600 fewer deaths would have occurred, with heart disease accounting for the largest share of this postponed mortality. There would be 4400 fewer people with heart disease at that time and 1100 fewer people living with the consequences of stroke.’ Veerman said.