The City of Greater Bendigo will reduce the availability of sugary drinks at council-owned venues to tackle rising obesity in the region.
According to VicHealth’s alarming statistics, around 27 per cent of those living in the municipality are obese.
Additionally, 56 per cent of children aged between six and eight years have tooth decay, while around 10 per cent of locals consume sugary drinks every day.
Bendigo council will share $500,000 in government funding with seven other Victorian councils as part of VicHealth’s Water in Sport Initiative to reduce the availability and promotion of sugary drinks in kiosks and cafes at leisure centres and sports venues.
The $62,500 will be used to promote water as the drink of choice at a minimum of ten city-owned venues, including Bendigo Stadium, Bendigo Tennis Centre and the new Gurri Wanyarra Wellbeing Centre.
Other venues will include the Flora Hill athletics complex and the Bendigo East swimming pool.
City of Greater Bendigo active and healthy lifestyles manager Lincoln Fitzgerald said the changes would be staged over the next two years, with venues allowed to stock a maximum of 20 per cent standard sugar and sweet beverages.
“It’s not about taking away an individual’s right to choose what they want to drink, it’s about trying to change some of the behaviours by having water at eye level,” he said.
The changes will be implemented across the ten largest council-owned venues, but other venues like the QEO could adopt the policy in the longer-term.
“We’re not going to go in with a heavy hand and say it must be done (across other venues),” Mr Fitzgerald said, adding the city didn’t envisage much protestation from soft drink companies.
“They make a very good profit margin on water so generally they're supportive of the initiative - there's not a lot of push back from their perspective.”
The government money will fund staff members with expertise to work with clubs and venues to implement the change without hurting their business or alienating people, Mr Fitzgerald said.
VicHealth chief executive officer Jerril Rechter said the projects were being delivered in areas with higher rates of sugary drink consumption, obesity or poor dental health.
“We know that too much sugar in our diet contributes to a range of major health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and stroke,” she said.
“The average Australian eats 14 teaspoons of added sugar each day – most of that extra sugar comes from sugary drinks, such as sports and energy drinks. A standard 600ml sports drink contains a whopping 11 teaspoons of sugar.”
Bendigo Health in October removed sugary drinks from all retail outlets and vending machines.
The Australian Beverages Council has been contacted for comment.
More to follow.