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We are well aware that soft drinks aren’t great for health. But when they are so widely available and affordable (and possibly addictive), they can be hard to resist.

There has been much talk about taxing sugary drinks. And with that talk comes much scepticism and concerns for an impending ‘nanny state’. Yet it turns out that raising the price of sugar-sweetened beverages may be just enough incentive for people to choose healthier drink options.

A study undertaken by the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University trialled for 17 weeks the impact on customer purchases following a 20% price hike on sugary drinks at The Alfred Hospital.

The price increase was chosen to reflect what be expected from a proposed sugary drinks tax.

“Sugary drinks are considered a good target for price manipulation because of their association with increased risk of health issues like obesity and dental decay, their minimal nutritional benefits and the apparent responsiveness of purchases to price changes,” said lead researcher Miranda Blake.

The results?

Sales of sugary beverages dropped by nearly 28% by the final week. Water purchases increased by a similar amount.

This supports the notion that price influences consumer purchase, and can be one of a multi-pronged approach to encourage the population to make healthier food and drink choices.

“About a third of the customers surveyed said the price difference had changed their purchasing decision, or would have changed it,” said project supervisor Dr Kathryn Backhole. “Nearly two thirds of those surveyed said they agreed with intervention”.

Another trial recently undertaken at The Alfred reported small changes to product placement and price also resulted in decreased sugary drink sales. And the change did not impact overall sales indicating people are simply choosing better beverage alternatives but at no cost to retailers.

In fact, the retailers were reported as feeling proud to be taking an active role in promoting the health of consumers!

So, price matters. Methods to influence what the public buy and consume could include a sugary drinks tax alongside subsidies to make whole food like veg and fruit more affordable. It is empowering for retailers to know they too can have a role to play when supporting the public toward better food and drink choice.

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)