Public health messaging on the heathy diets and sugar consumption are being undermined by supermarket pricing tactics, particularly for sugar-sweetened beverages, new research shows.
A study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, found around two-thirds of drink specials at supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths were for sugary drinks, including soft drinks and cordials.
The researchers, who were funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, VicHealth and Deakin University, evaluated the frequency, magnitude and weekly variation of beverage price promotions at Australia’s two largest supermarket chains over a 50-week period.
Drinks for sale were categorised into four groupings: sugar-sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened drinks, flavoured milks, and 100% juice, milk and water.
What the researchers found was that price promotions for sugar-sweetened drinks accounted for nearly half of all discounts for beverages (Woolworths 49%, Coles 46%) over the study period.
“Within each product category, the proportion of sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened beverages that were price promoted was similar, higher than the other categories and reasonably constant over time,” the authors said.
Diet drinks and sugar-sweetened soft drinks were the most heavily discounted products, with prices reduced on average by 29 to 40%.
The study is the first to establish long-term contemporary data on the extent and frequency of supermarket price promotions for beverages in Australia.
According to data from the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, two-thirds of Australian adults and one-quarter of children were classified as overweight or obese in 2014-15.
The ubiquitous availability and marketing of of cheap, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages containing excessive amounts of sugar, salt and saturated fats have been established as a key contributing factor to these growing obesity rates.
And a Harvard-led study, published in the journal, Circulation, in March this year, found people who drank two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day had a 31% higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, with each additional soda, sports drink, or sugary beverage increasing that risk by 10%.
“The ubiquity of price promotions on sugary drinks supports recent calls by public health coalitions and governments for a ban on unhealthy food and beverage price promotions,” the Australian study authors said, adding that the current pricing practices by the supermarkets were “undermining efforts to promote healthy population diets”.