Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) contribute excess added sugars to the diet and increase population overweight and obesity. The time has come to take a public health approach to obesity and its drivers, including reducing population SSB consumption. This study used mixed methods to investigate behaviours, attitudes and beliefs regarding the consumption of SSBs and community perceptions of the role for government.
Eight focus groups were conducted (n=57) with regular consumers of SSBs. The groups were segmented by life cycle stage (young adults and parents of primary school-aged children), SES (low and mid), and gender. A representative, face-to-face population survey was undertaken in South Australia (n=2732, RR=55%, ages 15+).
Survey findings revealed that consumption of SSBs was frequent (51% consume at least weekly; 11% daily or more); and normalised, and often considered a necessary accompaniment to physical activity. Few (19%) accurately estimated the sugar content of soft drink. There was even more limited understanding of the sugar content of sports drinks, juices and flavoured waters. There was low to moderate unprompted awareness of a range of associated health risks (dental decay 29%; weight gain 58%; diabetes 61%), but low perceived personal risk. There was majority support for regulations to reduce consumption of SSBs amongst children, but less support and some strong disagreement with regulations that affected participants’ own consumption. Container warning labels obtained the highest level of support (85%) from a list of potential government policy and regulatory interventions.
The findings indicate high population consumption but, for many, low understanding of sugar content or personal relevance of health risks. This demonstrates a need for improved consumer education. Receptivity to some forms of government intervention is notable.