If Tess Clarke had one wish, it would be that people swapped sugary drinks for good old fashioned water.
Tess is the executive officer at Healthy Futures – a charitable trust set up in Wellington in 2013 by a group of health professionals concerned about the number of children with preventable health problems as a result of being overweight or obese.
“When children are obese, they have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, which is in most cases an entirely preventable disease.” Tess says.
Healthy Futures offers a range of health promotion education initiatives and advocates for changes in the environment to ensure people can make healthy choices.
Central to their work is raising awareness about the harm sugary drinks cause (such as type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and obesity) and promoting water.
“The main problem with sugary drinks is that they are so readily available and cheap. We want to raise awareness about how harmful they are to everybody’s health, particularly kids’.”
Sports and fizzy drinks unnecessary
Sports drinks are particularly problematic due to their clever marketing, she says.
“Kids don’t need sports drinks. They are very sugary and also have a lot of sodium in them. It’s challenging because sports drinks are often endorsed by celebrities, so we’ve had to raise awareness around the fact you actually don’t need sports drinks. Water is the best option.”
The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education this year issued a recommendation to schools that they only offer water or low-fat milk.
“That has helped with the work we are doing, but it doesn’t go far enough. The recommendation is optional, but it needs to be a requirement that schools only provide healthy drinks. We’ve encountered resistance from some schools, such as those who sell sugary drinks at school events, as this is often seen as a good way to raise money.”
Tess says there are healthy, fun, cost-effective alternatives to sugary drinks for school events like galas and discos.
One of their most successful initiatives is the free Healthy Futures Water Kit. It consists of three 10 litre water dispensers, which can be infused with fruit, vegetables, herbs or edible flowers.
“Kids absolutely love it and it provides them with a choice, and is a healthy, attractive alternative to sugary drinks. We’ve found it’s a very successful way to get kids to drink water.”
Drive to increase water fountains
Healthy Futures made submissions to Wellington City Council this year to increase the number of water fountains around the city to encourage people to drink water.
“If you’re out and about in the city, especially with kids, there isn’t always access to free water. Bottled water is more expensive than fizzy drink, so people are more likely to buy fizzy if they need something to drink.”
Healthy Futures encourages people to eat more real and less packaged food, and to incorporate exercise into their daily lives. It also works closely with the Garden to Table programme, in which school kids learn to grow and cook with their own produce.
Many of the trust’s education sessions in schools, sports clubs and workplaces focus on the harm sugary drinks cause.
“We take displays showing how much sugar there is in a range of drinks and people are always shocked.”