Fat chance of a fair game: new sports drinks proposal will mislead consumers on nutritional information, experts warn

23 Sep 2014

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) is warning that proposed changes to food regulations could allow popular sports drinks with nearly as much sugar as soft drink to carry health claims, which could mislead the public into thinking they were healthier choices than water.

A public consultation currently underway by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) proposes that electrolyte drinks like Gatorade be allowed to carry health claims promoting the product as beneficial for the replacement of fluid, carbohydrates and electrolytes lost as a result of
sustained strenuous physical activity – despite containing around eight teaspoons of sugar.

According to the FSANZ, the health claims will supply sports people with information to help make food choices appropriate to nutritional or performance goals.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the OPC, said: “These new health claims are only relevant to serious sportspeople, however currently these products are marketed to, and consumed by, large numbers of Australians, who may already perceive them as a 'healthier' alternative. This change has potential to add to the impression that these products are beneficial for anyone who engages in sport.”

Most Australians do not even meet the national physical activity guidelines, which recommended exercise of 2.5 to 5 hours at moderate intensity per week so these proposed health claims are only relevant to a small minority of consumers.

“For the majority of consumers, a Gatorade and a Coke contribute around the same amount of energy to the diet, which for many people is excess to requirements and not recommended as part of a healthy diet,” said Ms Martin.

Part of the proposal would see sports drinks exempted from a regulation that prohibits health claims on products that are deemed unhealthy overall.

“Presenting the impression that these products provide superior health benefits compared to water, without providing clear warnings about the high sugar content and potential negative impacts, is misleading for consumers.”

“To exempt high sugar products from the important consumer protections that apply to all other sugary drinks would seriously undermine informed consumer choice and healthy diets in Australia. At a time when Australian governments are searching for solutions to address the high rates of chronic disease caused by poor diets, overweight and obesity, undermining consumers' capacity to make healthy dietary choices would be a huge backward step,” Ms Martin said.

The public consultation is open until 30 September. Any interested parties can make a submission to FSANZ by emailing submissions@foodstandards.gov.au.