Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Reducing high sugar drink consumption in remote communities

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Warren Snowdon MP, Minister for Indigenous Health

The Australian Government is requesting an urgent report from key departments on policy options to help reduce the consumption of high sugar drinks in remote communities.

A new study from the Menzies School of Health Research has highlighted the need to lower the consumption of high sugar drinks in remote Indigenous Northern Territory communities.

The research has shown that there has been an increase in the consumption of high sugar drinks in the stores examined in the study from October 2006 to September 2009. The research also cites reports that soft drinks are contributing up to 27 per cent of the total sugar available through remote community stores.

Foods and drinks with high sugar content can contribute significantly to chronic diseases such as diabetes and renal disease.

Adopting policies which reduce the consumption of high sugar drinks would help give children in remote Indigenous communities a healthier start in life.

The Government is requesting a report outlining the options available to discourage consumption of high sugar drinks in Indigenous communities to be prepared by the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

The report will consider options to encourage store owners and managers to reduce the sales of these products and discourage consumers in remote communities from buying them.

We know from the experience in Amata, in the APY lands, that removing high-sugar drinks from communities can make a huge difference. Following the decision by the community to remove soft drinks and energy drinks with high sugar levels from their store in 2008, soft drink consumption fell by 43,000 litres.

The Government welcomes the Menzies survey of ten Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA) stores.

The detailed analysis and findings from the Menzies survey are not inconsistent with the findings in the Government’s 2009 Post Licensing Monitoring Report, and do not support a conclusion across all communities that the Northern Territory Emergency Response has had limited impact.

Very few other stores outside Arnhem Land had a similarly strong emphasis on improving nutritional outcomes prior to the introduction of income management.

ALPA stores have long been among the best managed stores in the Northern Territory. The stores have had a strong nutrition policy in place since 1984 and employ an in-house nutritionist. Local people are employed to promote healthy eating and the additional freight costs are not included in the price of fruit and vegetables so these items are often cheaper than in other community stores.

It is not surprising that purchasing habits are healthier in these ALPA stores both prior and subsequent to the introduction of income management.

Income management is an important reform to fight passive welfare and ensure more money goes to food, clothes and rent and less money goes to buying alcohol and to gambling.

A Post Licensing Monitoring Report last year covering 66 stores found that 68 per cent of store operators reported an increase in the amount of healthy food purchased following the Northern Territory Emergency Response measures.

Under income management, 50 per cent of income support and family payments is set aside to ensure funds are available for items essential to the wellbeing of families and children. Income managed funds cannot be spent on alcohol, cigarettes or gambling.