The consumption of sugary drinks is common among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and toddlers, possibly due to water quality, according to the Australian National University (ANU). Yet researchers there believe there are clear opportunities to improve nutrition for these children as well as non-indigenous children across the nation.
“Families living in regional and remote settings have expressed concern about the safety and quality of drinking water. This can leave families with no choice but to avoid tap water and instead buy bottled drinks, cordial, or other sugary drinks,” said lead author Katie Thurber, MPhil, PhD, research fellow at the ANU College of Health & Medicine Research School of Population Health.
The study looked at more than 900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children age three and under.
“The good news is we found that half of children aged zero to three years in the study had never consumed sugary drinks,” Thurber said. “However, the bad news is that the other 50% in the study had consumed sugary drinks, and this started as early as the first year of life.”
Consumption of cordials was most common at 47% of all children, followed by soft drinks at 19% and sweetened tea and coffee at 13%. These children were less likely to have ever had sugary drinks if their families experienced socioeconomic advantage, social support, limited stressors, good well-being, and support from health services.
“We need to support families as a whole and address life stressors and circumstances that can get in the way of a healthy diet,” said Thurber. “Families need relevant advice from health professionals, but improving information and knowledge is only one part of the solution. We also need programs and policies to improve the social determinants of health if we want to improve nutrition.”
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families disproportionately experience socioeconomic disadvantage and life stressors stemming from colonization and its lasting impacts. This includes structural inequities and racism,” said coauthor Ray Lovett, RN, BN, MAE, PhD, associate professor at the ANU College of Health and Medicine.
The researchers found that babies and toddlers living in cities and regional centers were significantly less likely to consume sugary drinks than children in remote areas, and with links to reduced access to safe drinking water and reduced accessibility and affordability of recommended beverages.
“Reducing sugary drink intake will require improving water quality across Australia,” said Thurber. “Sugary drink intake is too high among all Australian children more broadly.”
The study, “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Indigenous Australian Children Aged 0-3 Years and Association With Sociodemographic, Life Circumstances, and Health Factors,” was published by Public Health Nutrition.