Added sugar consumption stats not sweet mate

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Australian teenage boys are eating more than 10kg of free sugar from soft drinks alone, prompting the Heart Foundation to again call on the Australian Government to examine the merits of a health levy on sugary-sweetened beverages, and on Australians to reduce their intake of junk food.

This follows the release of new Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealing that one in two Australians exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that free sugars contribute less than 10 per cent of total energy intake.

In boys aged 14-18 years, more than 30% of their 92 grams per day of free sugar intake came from soft drinks (not including other sugary drinks like energy or sports drinks, cordials or fruit drinks). In girls, this figure is lower but still concerning. Girls aged 14-18 years consume 70.3 grams per day with 17.6% from soft drinks.

Heart Foundation Senior Policy Advisor – Food & Nutrition Beth Thomas said this meant that for boys aged 14-18 years, they were getting about 7 teaspoons of sugar from soft drinks daily, which is 10.5kg of free sugar per year from soft drink alone.

“With figures like this, it’s not surprising to see that the average Australian intake is above the WHO guideline to consume <10% energy from ‘free sugars,” Beth Thomas said.

“But, by simply cutting out soft drinks our teenage boys could almost meet the WHO guidelines bringing average energy from free sugars in boys aged 14-18 from 14.5% to 10.4%. Similarly, across most age groups, the elimination of soft drink intake would bring them below the WHO guideline.”

Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor Prof Garry Jennings said it was alarming to see that free sugar intake was being driven by Australia’s appetite for discretionary or ‘junk’ foods.

“Discretionary foods accounted for the majority (81%) of free sugars and just over half (52%) of all free sugars consumed were from beverages,” Prof Jennings said.

“The best action many people can do for their heart health is to cut down on discretionary style foods such as sugary drinks, confectionary and cakes.

“With beverages the source of more than half the free sugars for the average Australian, we need to do more to educate on the health consequences and reduce sugary drink intake.”

Prof Jennings said the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with increased energy intake and in turn, weight gain and obesity.

“It is well established that obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Keep sometimes foods to sometimes,” Prof Jennings said.

“The simple message from this new ABS data is to choose water over sugary drinks.

“Further, this adds weight to the growing call for the Australian Government to examine the merits of a health levy on sugar-sweetened beverages relative to healthier options, to change purchasing habits and achieve healthier diets.”

Beth Thomas added that as a whole, discretionary foods contributed substantial amounts of energy, saturated and trans fat, added sugar and refined carbohydrates, and salt to our diets.

“Eating these foods take up space in our diets where core foods should be. A heart healthy diet is one that is a balanced diet with including vegetables, fruit and whole grains, choose good quality lean meat, reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt or alternatives and include healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, oily fish and olives and reduced salt,” Beth Thomas said.