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Australia's Soft Drink Initiative Accused of 'Sugarcoating' Nation's Health Crisis

A controversial scheme that aims to reduce the sugar intake of soft drink consumers has been backed by the Australian government, despite widespread criticism from health specialists.

The sugar cut pledge, a joint initiative of the Australian Beverages Council and Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt, will see a 20% sugar reduction within the soft drink industry by 2025.

The initiative correlates with the soft drink industry average, which means that major players like Coca-Cola and Sprite could maintain sugar levels in current drinks and still significantly reduce their companies' overall sugar levels simply by introducing various sugar-free options or bottled water within their company.

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"As a country, we can help tackle the obesity epidemic through the practice of industry, through participation, and with the support of the government," Hunt announced to reporters in Canberra on June 25.

"If you can work with the industry and get an outcome such as this, you get exactly the outcome we all want: healthier products, healthier children, and healthier adults."

Over 80% of players in the non-alcoholic drinks industry have voiced their support for the initiative.

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The agreement, however, has received condemnation from health experts who claim the initiative is nothing more than an attempt to avoid a nationwide 20% sugar tax — an idea widely popular within the health industry. 

"We consume too much sugar in our soft drinks, we consume too much soft drinks in total," Tony Bartone, the Australian Medical Association President, said in a statement.

"A sugar tax will address the problem of trying to reduce the consumption, which is at the heart of the problem."

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The sugar cut pledge has also shined a light on the broader discussion surrounding the relationship between unhealthy food and drinks and those in low-income communities.

In Australia, the obesity rate in the lower economic region of far west New South Wales is 37.2% — a figure that surpassess the highest rate in the United States of 35.1% in Mississippi and West Virginia.

By comparison, the obesity rate in wealthy Northern Sydney is 11.1%.

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Dr Chin Jou, a lecturer in American history at the University of Sydney, claims the reason for such an obesity rate disparity is due to the lack of healthy food sources and the fact that healthy food is often beyond the financial reach of many in lower economic areas. 

“If we are to tackle obesity, it is imperative that we introduce macroeconomic reforms to alleviate poverty," Jou stated in an opinion piece for the ABC.

"Job training programs, improved public education in poor communities, moving low-income households to more advantaged neighbourhoods, and other measures to facilitate upward mobility are necessary to tackle the socioeconomic dimensions of the cycle of obesity,” Jou wrote.

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and fighting for good health and well-being is number 3. You can take action on this issue here.