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ACU first Aussie uni to go hard on soft drinks

ACU has included a ‘no added sugar’ policy in its rule book, becoming the first Australian university to do so.

After analysing vending machine offerings across its campuses and discovering that over half of beverages contained extra sweet stuff, they removed soft drinks, some flavoured waters, fruit drinks, cordials, iced teas, energy drinks and sports drinks. Remaining are drinks like water, milk, coconut water, diet soft drinks and essence-only flavoured waters.

Now, three-quarters of their machines’ contents – food and drink – are designated under the Australian Dietary Guideline as healthy.

The move, which accords with NSW Department of Health guidelines, forms “part of the university’s commitment to a sustainable and healthy environment in which to study and work”, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students Learning and Teaching) Professor Anne Cummins said.

Dr Jason Wu of the George Institute for Global Health, who managed the analysis with ACU, said: “We know when people are presented with healthier choices they choose them. When drinks such as these were removed from sale in universities overseas, people … simply swapped for a drink not loaded with sugar.”

Although internal reactions have ranged from bitter to sweet, ACU hopes other institutions will follow suit. USYD mulled a soft drink ban in 2016, to no avail. Health faculty academics highlighted the contradiction in advocating sugar reduction while profiting from the sale of sugary drinks.

ACU’s initiative forms part of a local, and global, anti-sugar movement. For example, in August, the Queensland government announced it will ban sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks from its public hospitals and healthcare facilities. Britain, joining scores of other countries, implemented a sugar tax this year.

Sensing the cultural shift, companies like Coca Cola have invested in healthier products like water and expanded their diet drink offerings.

Research suggests that consuming one soft drink a day leads to an annual weight gain of seven kilograms.

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