Childhood obesity is at an all-time high in New Zealand.
It is now thought to be the first time in history where parents will outlive their children due to diet related illness and death. With the huge increase in waist size, people are looking around for answers to the extra bulge, while inactivity and diet are the most focused on, people tend to overlook an important aspect of our diets- what we are drinking.
The drinking habits of kiwi kids have changed dramatically over the past 20 years. With upwards of sixty different types of soft drinks and energy drinks to choose from, soft drinks have become very popular and often now replace nutrient rich drinks such as milk and water. Soft drinks are so cheap and readily available and New Zealanders are now guzzling 500 Million litres per year.
Soft drinks contribute no nutritional value to childrens diets and have been strongly linked to obesity. With 1 in 5 children under 14 being overweight and 1 in 12 obese in New Zealand, it seems this is a food group which needs some serious attention.
When soft drinks became popular in the 1970 they were an occasional drink for special celebrations like birthdays and Christmas. Now come 7am on a school morning my local dairy is swarming with primary and high school children purchasing 1 or 2 litre soft drinks to take to school.
The problem with soft drinks is that they are so cheap. I often hear the comparison about soft drinks being cheaper than bottled water and milk, and for younger people this seems like a value for money option. However, children and parents both need to be reminded that the water from our taps at home is free and is the best form of hydration - isn't that why we drink?
New Zealand's government has done little to discourage children drinking soft drinks, they even revoked the regulations of the sale of healthy foods and beverages in school canteens (NAG. 5 s3) in 2009 allowing schools to sell soft drinks among other unhealthy foods.
One New Zealand Business man Tony Falkenstein, who is passionate about childhood obesity, has suggested the government introduces a tax on sugary drinks as he makes the link between childhood obesity and soft drinks. He believes that this could be a way to deter people from buying soft drinks so regularly. Other countries facing similar problems with childhood obesity have taken measures to reduce consumption of soft drinks. In New York, a legal size for soft drinks of 480mls has been introduced, and in France an additional tax increases the price of soft drinks to make them more of an occasional drink.
New Zealand is facing a serious childhood obesity epidemic and attitudes toward soft drinks need to change.
My advice to parents would be not to buy your children soft drinks, or if you do, make it an occasional treat 3-4 times a year. A good option is to replace soft drinks with unflavoured milk or water as an everyday drink and remember if you wouldn't drink it yourself, don't give it to your children.
By Kali Brydon BSC Human Nutritionist