A mandatory 30 percent reduction in the energy content of sugary soft drinks would save Australia $8 billion over the population’s lifetime and net an extra 822,835 years of healthy life, averting at least 150,000 premature deaths, according to a study published Monday.
The study, published by The George Institute in the journal Nutrients, modelled three scenarios for reducing the health burden of sweetened beverages on the Australian population – by either shrinking serve sizes or restricting the energy content of drink formulations.
All three models generated population benefits, but the latter initiative – requiring beverage makers to lower the energy content of their products by 30% — produced the most gains.
Were this measure introduced, the authors said at least 150,000 premature deaths would be averted: 47,000 from type two diabetes alone and thousands more from breast cancer and heart disease. An additional 822,835 healthy life years would be gained and $8 billion in cost savings over the nation’s lifetime.
“There is overwhelming need to reduce the amount of sugar in these drinks and we have shown that not only will it benefit the lives of millions of Australians, it will also save the government and the tax payers many hundreds of millions of dollars too,” said lead author Michelle Crino.
Rolling out this measure with a less ambitious 5% kilojoule reduction target would net 144,261 healthy life years and $1.5 billion in savings, while standardisation of all single-serve beverages to 375ml would result in 73,883 extra years and $750.8 million in savings.
Even voluntary implementation of a 30% energy reduction pledge, as seen in the UK, would save $1.8 billion and deliver an additional 173,410 healthy life years, the authors said.
“We know that sugary drinks have no health benefits whatsoever and are a key contributor to the obesity crisis,” said co-author Bruce Neal.
“But what we now have before us in black and white are the sheer numbers of lives that can be saved if industry made just moderate changes to the drinks it sells.”
“Industry could implement these changes within 12 months if it chose to, and the effects would be immediate and profound – thousands living healthier lives, free of the symptoms of obesity and tooth decay, and at much reduced risks of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.”
Interested, as always, to hear your thoughts.