Sugar sweetened beverages and obesity - evidence to advance a public health response
Obesity is a preventable risk factor for many cancers, (including post-menopausal breast cancer). Given the difficulty in treating obesity, finding effective obesity prevention strategies is essential for public health. Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are increasingly singled out because of: their large contribution to added sugar in the diet; the extra kilojoules they provide; and resulting overweight and obesity. Australia is a world leader in tobacco control and yet - despite being an overweight nation - lags behind other countries in policy responses to address obesity. As part of a comprehensive approach, health agencies are increasingly calling for regulatory measures to reduce the consumption of SSBs, such as: taxes; marketing restrictions; restrictions on sponsoring children’s sports; restrictions on sales in schools. This project will provide unique and essential evidence to inform public health and public health policy directions.
What we aim to achieve
Prevention of obesity is an important cancer prevention priority given that it is a risk factor for a range of cancers: endometrial, oesophageal, renal, gallbladder, bowel and post-menopausal breast cancers. Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is an entirely modifiable behaviour, which have been shown to increase overweight and obesity, a known risk factor for cancer. Sugar-sweetened beverages have been identified by national and international public health agencies as a critical point for intervention, because of their contribution to obesity, their non-nutritive contribution of added sugar and excess kilojoules to the diet; and their lack of positive impact on satiety. This study will apply behavioural science and experience from tobacco control, to develop evidence and policy responses for cancer prevention. The potential (seen in tobacco control) is for incremental behaviour changes across populations with substantial benefits for population weight and prevention of obesity-related cancers.
What are the next steps and milestones for your research?
Sugary drinks contribute to obesity and have nil to little nutritional benefit. Cancer Council SA's funding has been critical to commence this work in an emerging topical and important area of obesity prevention and cancer prevention. It has produced findings who show that parents and young people do not understand the harm associated with the high levels of consumption and in fact think that there are benefits, notably for children, which do not really exist. The findings of this research will be used to inform the development of health communication and messaging to help Australians understand the role of added sugars in the diets, the risks of obesity and future health consequences, and empower then to reduce their consumption and that of their children.
What motivates you to pursue cancer research?
I am motivated to reduce the impact of cancer. So much unnecessary pain could be avoided and so many cancers could be prevented. I am very keen to apply the knowledge and training I have in Psychology, Economics and Public Health, coupled with my previous professional experience, to help empower people to make informed choices and good choices for their health, and to help agencies such as Cancer Council SA advocate for evidence-based policies and Governments to work with good evidence to build societies which promote and enable cancer-preventing choices. I am also very motivated to help reduce the burden of the experience of cancer for people and am developing other research projects in this space.
My message to supporters:
Population and behavioural health research is an under-rated but critical area of research if we are to have any hope of reversing trends in obesity, and the cancers it causes. Funding from Cancer Council SA donors has been critical to commence this work in an emerging topical and important area of obesity prevention and cancer prevention. Cancer Council SA’s funding has allowed us to conduct research with young people, and parents of children about sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. If funded, the next component will enable us to develop health campaign messages which will be effective in helping parents and young people to understand the risks and to motivate behaviour change for healthy weight. Our research will inform strategies such as health policy measures which reduce marketing to children, it will assist the development of public education campaigns aimed at increasing the health of Australians and reducing the burden of preventable cancers.