Traffic light labelling, healthier drinks in the home and price increases all decreased the consumption of sugary drinks.

There’s been considerable attention given to the idea of a sugar tax – a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to encourage manufacturers to move towards healthier alternatives. But there’s also a significant push for tweaks to our environment that may reduce the consumption of sugary drinks.

The idea is if you inform consumers about whether a choice they’re making is healthy or not – or make consuming sugary drinks less desirable – they’ll drink less and have a healthier life as a result. But which environmental tweaks actually work?

A recent Cochrane Review looked at that very question. It collected all the available evidence concerning environmental interventions to reduce sugary drinks.

In all, there were 60 studies and 23 different approaches, including traffic-light labelling on drinks to indicate if they were a healthier or less healthy choice, improved availability of healthy drinks in schools and the home, and an increase In the price of sugary drinks for consumers – separate to a tax.

They found that the best evidence was for traffic light labelling, which fared better than nutritional scorecards (those tiny labels on the backs of food and drink which break down the levels of carbs, sugars and fat in what you’re consuming).

In Australia, the health star rating system does something similar, but is not mandatory and doesn’t always reflect the sugar content in a food. Another important area was the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in the home.

When healthier options were available, consumption of sugary drinks decreased, and young people often chose the healthier option over the more sugary one, even when both were available.

Implications

A sugar tax is politically contentious, but other means of improving choice for consumers may be possible and there is good quality evidence that tweaks to the environment do work. What’s more, the interventions can be scaled up – which is necessary when it comes to population health.

Last Reviewed: 04/04/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: von Philipsborn, et al (2019). Environmental interventions to reduce the consumption of sugar‐sweetened beverages and their effects on health. Cochrane Library doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD012292.pub2.

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