Australians have embraced more choices and fewer kilojoules when it comes to the beverages they consumed, says a new study funded by the Australian beverages Council, the peak body for beverage makers.
According to a paper published in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics, there have been significant changes in what Australians are drinking.
The study analysed 15 years of grocery and food service data to find that sales of water-based non-alcoholic beverages including soft drinks, sports drinks, iced tea, mixers, and flavoured and mineral water had grown by 2% annually.
It also found that 42% of all such beverages consumed in 2011 were of non-sugar varieties, compared to 30% in 1997, and that nearly one-third of all soft drink sales in 2011 were of the non-sugared.
On the long-term trends in Australians’ drinking habits, the study found that the sugar contribution from water-based beverages for each person has dropped by 17% between 1997 and 2011, and that from carbonated soft drinks has dropped by just over one-quarter.
The researchers put these findings down to the trend among consumers to switc from sugar-sweetened to non-sugar sweetened soft drinks over the research period.
Bill Shrapnel, research co-author and dietician, said that the research highlighted an important trend in how Australian drinking habits change.
“A shift from sugar-sweetened towards non-sugar sweetened drinks over 15 years leading to a significant drop in the sugar contribution from water-based beverages, especially soft drinks.
“Less sugar means fewer kilojoules. It’s a very important shift in Australian’s beverage behaviour that is consistent with public health objectives,” Shrapnel said.
Geoff Parker, CEO of the Australian Beverages Council, said that the research is encouraging and that the beverage industry has adapted and continued to innovate providing more beverage options.
“When you look across the supermarket shelves today, you can see the beverage category is unique in providing low and no-kilojoule options alongside the regular drinks. This research indicates the importance of this innovation by providing consumers with variety and choice,” Parker said.
However, Kieron Rooney, nutritionist at the University of Sydney, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the study looked like “a case of smoke and mirrors,” and pointed out that it excludes fruit drinks, cordial and milk-based drinks.
“It asks readers to focus on a steeply declining line which is for sugar from carbonated beverages only. Great... So we are just getting less sugar from them. But we have made up for that by choosing other sugar drinks, which the graph does not plot,” he said.
Parker contended that and said that the study was a “robust and thorough piece of research that has academic and methodology rigour.”
According to the study, the highest household consumers of soft drinks (both regular and low-kilojoule) are families with teenage children, while families with young children were the lowest overall.
Teenage males are the biggest overall consumers when it came to soft drinks (both regular and low-kilojoule) sports drinks, energy drinks and iced teas, while teenage girls are the biggest consumers of bottled water.
Australians over 50 are the biggest consumers of mixers, but the lowest of bottled water, while families with young children and adults under 35 were the lowest consumers of soft drinks.
“This research highlights that what someone prefers to drink changes according to their life-stage. Young adults or families with young children have completely different tastes to a busy Australian teenager, indicating our beverage habits don’t last a lifetime,” Shrapnel said.