Ballarat Health Services receives VicHealth Award for making water the drink of choice

Win: Kerry Walsh, Caroline Amirtharajah, Craig Wilding and Fiona McLean.
Win: Kerry Walsh, Caroline Amirtharajah, Craig Wilding and Fiona McLean.

A cultural change reducing access to sugary drinks and increasing water intake is paying dividends for local health providers. 

Water – The Drink of Choice was launched by Ballarat Health Services in November 2016. The initiative increased access to free tap water and restricted promotion of soft drinks, sports drinks and juices.

With an awareness campaign teaching more then 7,000 staff in the region about how much sugar they were consuming, BHS reports the amount of people consuming sugary drinks daily has seriously decreased.  

BHS Primary and Community Care executive director Craig Wilding said the best metric of the program’s success is the organisation’s expanding water consumption. 

“It’s been a change of mindset to have glass bottles of water everywhere and at meetings instead of plastic bottles,” he said.

“Because of the measures, the drinking of tap water has really increased across BHS. 

“There was some discussion about if we took those drink options out of our shops, whether there would be a financial impact on those businesses selling them.

“The substitution of water has had no impact on our bottom line, what we actually sell in our vending machines or shopfronts.”

Ballarat Health Services won the ‘Promoting Healthy Eating’ category at the 2017 VicHealth Awards on December 5 for their Water – The Drink of Choice project. 

High sugar consumption and excessive caloric intake can cause diabetes, heart disease and obesity. 

Project officer and dietitian Fiona McLean said reducing consumption of sugary drinks is hindered by their saturation in society.

“I think it’s largely that it’s there, it’s available and it’s familiar, she said. “In the moment, people aren’t thinking about nutrition and how it’s going to affect their bodies.”

“That’s why two or three aspects of this program have been making sure people have access to water and reducing the prominence of sugary drinks.”

“There’s varying levels of what people understand about what’s in their food and drinks. A lot of people just don’t realise how much sugar is in their beverages.”

Misinformation around drinks containing sugar is common. The Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll released this week found that a quarter of parents mistakenly believe fruit drinks may be a healthier option than water. 

A third of Australian children are regularly consuming sugar-sweetened drinks, while 29 per cent of parents incorrectly believe children need sports drinks to recover from regular physical activity.

Water – The Drink of Choice was run in conjuction with City of Ballarat, Ballarat Community Health, Central Highlands Primary Care Partnership, St John of God Ballarat Hospital, Western Victoria Primary Health Network, YMCA Ballarat.