Wipe-out on sugar drinks

CHOICE: Ballarat Community Health dietitian Kerri Gordon supports Grattan Institute's sugar tax strategy but calls for greater education on healthier options to quench thirst. Picture: Dylan Burns

CHOICE: Ballarat Community Health dietitian Kerri Gordon supports Grattan Institute's sugar tax strategy but calls for greater education on healthier options to quench thirst. Picture: Dylan Burns

SUGARY drinks will be phased out at all YMCA pools across the region this summer as part of the organisation’s healthy eating process.

The YMCA will take a staged approach for Pyrenees pools in Avoca, Beaufort and Landsborough but will eliminate all sugar drinks in the Corangamite and Moyne shires, including the Skipton pool. There are no longer YMCA-operated pools in central Ballarat.

This move comes amid a renewed push for a national soft drink sugar tax, mooted by a non-partisan Grattan Institute report this week, in a bid to tackle Australia’s obesity epidemic.

The YMCA initiative is part of a statewide cultural roll-out, which YMCA Ballarat chief executive officer Kate Phillips said was well-received about pools in other parts of the state last summer.

“YMCA is making sure it’s part of the solution to fighting obesity, particularly for children when they’re being healthy and having a great day at the pool,” Ms Phillips said.

“In terms of the sugar tax, YMCA supports a holistic approach to help tackle the very complex issue of obesity...it’s not always just a tax that changes people’s habits.”

In a similar fashion to tax on cigarettes and leaded petrol, the report calls for a tax applied to the sugar content of non-alcoholic water-based drinks, on top of GST, set at 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar. This would raise an estimated $500 million each year the report recommends could be new tax to boost healthcare funding or for programs to promote healthy eating.

The report calculates obesity costs Australian taxpayers more than $5.3 billion a year, predominantly on healthcare and welfare. While not deemed a quick fix, the report suggests the proposed tax would encourage healthier choices.

Ballarat Community Health dietitian Kerri Gordon supported the strategy as a start, but big picture emphasis should be on educating people on other, healthier options to quench their thirst.

“For good nutrition, labelling certain foods as ‘villain’ does not help – we need a good relationship with food,” Ms Gordon said.

“It’s about allowing people other options.”

Ballarat Health Services re-branded its vending machines with bottled water brands and pushed sugary drinks to the back earlier this month in a bid to promote H2O use instead.

The initiative has also been undertaken by Ballarat Community Health, Central Highlands Primary Care Partnership, City of Ballarat, St John of God Hospital Ballarat, YMCA Ballarat and the Western Victoria Primary Health Network in a united regional movement.