Background and significance
Given that sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption increases the risk of overweight and obesity in adults and children, establishing public understanding of this relationship and assessing attitudes towards measures to reduce SSB consumption are health priorities.
Utilising a qualitative methodology, this research explored behaviours, attitudes and beliefs regarding the consumption of SSBs, including perceptions of potential regulatory measures (e.g., taxation and restrictions on marketing/sales to children). Eight focus groups were conducted (n=57) in 2014 with regular (at least weekly) consumers of SSBs. The groups were segmented by life cycle stage (young adults and parents of primary school-aged children), SES (low and mid), and gender.
The findings indicate that consumption of SSBs for most participants and their children was normalised, approaching multiple times per week, and considered a necessary accompaniment to physical activity. They had limited understanding of the sugar content of sports drinks, juices and flavoured waters and milks, and of the link between consumption and excess weight and did not perceive themselves to be at risk of weight gain or other associated health problems due to their SSB consumption. Participants acknowledged the need not to drink SSBs to excess; however, they had no conception of what “excess” was. There was little awareness or understanding of health agency recommendations regarding sugar consumption and SSBs. There was support for regulations to reduce consumption of SSBs amongst children, but less support and some strong disagreement with regulations that affected participants’ own consumption.
The findings indicate limited awareness and understanding of the link between SSB consumption and health problems, the sugar content of different drinks, and the health consequences of consuming sugar in this form, with implications for future research to progress policy.