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Sugar coating sports drinks

CHOICE warns that proposal for sports drinks to carry health claims will mislead consumers

7 October 2014

CHOICE believes that allowing sports drinks to carry health claims will mislead consumers into believing that sports drinks are generally a healthy option and is warning the food regulator not to be sweet talked by the beverage industry.

“Sports drinks can help elite athletes but they aren’t designed for everyday use. Yet drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are marketed and sold to everyone,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“Most people will receive no health benefit from a bright blue sugar drink. Sports drinks belong on the shelves next to Coke and Lemonade, not in the health food aisle and the claims on the label need to reflect this.”

Standards to regulate health claims were introduced last year so that consumers would not be misled. A product must meet certain strict criteria for energy, sugars, sodium and other key nutrients in order to carry a health claim like “improves hydration” or “reduces cholesterol”[1]

A public consultation process run by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) [2] is considering whether electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade should be able to carry health claims and bypass this important consumer protection test.

“Rules about health claims were introduced last year to stop situations where you had clearly unhealthy products like sweets and chocolates making claims that they were 99 per cent fat free.[3] There’s extensive research showing that any specific health claim gives a product a ‘halo effect’ and people believe the product is healthier overall.”

“People should have the confidence that if a product has a health claim, then it is a healthier product. Creating a loophole for sports drinks is a backwards step.” 

“Sports drinks are high in sugar, salt and kilojoules. A regular 600ml bottle of Gatorade has 36g of sugar; compare this to a standard can of coke, which at 375 mL contains 40g sugar.”

Research shows that people drinking sports drinks do so when they are thirsty, hot or are simply outdoors. In some cases people used sports drinks as a cure for a hangover or cramps.[4]

“Sports drinks are widely available. You can find them in supermarkets, corner stores, vending machines and are often placed at point of sale to encourage impulse purchases. They’re clearly marketed to a wide audience and it makes no sense to allow health claims that would only apply to a small group of athletes.”

“We are calling on FSANZ to put the consumer first and not to proceed with these changes.”

[1] Under Standard 1.2.7, health claims are only permitted on foods that meet the nutrient profiling scoring criterion (NPSC). A NPSC score is determined based on the amount of energy, saturated fat, total sugars and sodium in the food, along with the amount of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and in some cases, dietary fibre and protein.    

[2] Link to FSANZs proposal: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/proposals/Documents/P1030-HC-SFoods-CFS.pdf

[3] A standard to regulate nutrient content claims and health claims on food labels and advertisements became law in 2013. It means that food products have to meet certain criteria in order to make nutrient content or health claims.

[4] Colmar Brunton (2010) FSANZ Consumer research investigating the use of formulated supplementary sports foods, http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/Documents/Sports_foods_final_report.pdf  


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