A Waikato University study has found that sugary drinks in New Zealand contain proportionally more sugar than their overseas counterparts. Māori Public Health Organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora, says that this highlights the need for the government to step up to protect communities.

The average New Zealand drink examined in the study contained 5-6 teaspoons across soft drinks and juices, while in the UK it was found to contain 3-4 teaspoons. This sugar content represents a major threat to health, with sugary drinks being a key driver of obesity, dental problems, and other health issues.

The damage these high-sugar drinks are doing to the health of whānau is highlighted in Hāpai Te Hauora’s Fizz Free Whānau Challenge, which aims to use a month-long challenge to further engage communities in healthy nutrition policy- a project that has yielded interesting results already.

Campaign Manager, Kera Sherwood-O’Regan says, "I wish we could say we’re surprised by these research findings, but I think we need to go beyond looking at the ingredients of fizzy drinks and start looking at the ingredients in a system that has enabled these drinks, and indeed these companies, to take so much from our communities."

She says, "What we’re seeing in our campaign, is that many whānau are absolutely hooked on these drinks- suffering headaches and withdrawal symptoms while trying to give them up, yet these drinks that can do so much harm are all around the place- in stores, on bill boards and shopfronts, represented as some kind of essential component of the kiwi summer."

"Choices are not made in a vacuum, so when we have environments like this, it’s no wonder that people have a hard time ditching the fizz. This really highlights the need for stronger regulation at the central government level, as well as community-based policies to support whānau who want to make positive choices for their health."

Hāpai Te Hauora’s Fizz Free Whānau campaign has engaged champions such as Mike Puru, Marama Davidson MP, Maria Folau (née Tutaia), the Oneill twins, and Maria Foy of Healthy Mum Healthy Child to promote the month-long challenge to give up sugary drinks.

Proceeds go towards grants that community organisations can access to fund healthy initiatives within their communities. They also provide free support to organisations wanting to establish Fizz Free and healthy nutrition policies.

You can take the challenge at www.fizzfree.org.nz and join your community to #DitchTheFizz.

What: Fizz Free Whānau: a challenge to go without sugary drinks for the month of January

When: January 2018

Who: Hāpai Te Hauora, with partners Netball New Zealand and Toi Tangata, supporting whānau to go sugary drinks free with information, encouragement and prizes throughout the month of January.

Where: All over Aotearoa and the Cook Islands

How: Get on board with #FizzFreeWhānau at www.fizzfree.org.nz Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @fizzfreenz.