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Poor water quality linked to sugary drink consumption in remote communities

A lack of access to safe, good-quality drinking water in rural and remote areas could account for high rates of soft drink consumption in Indigenous communities. 

A study from the Australian National University (ANU), published in Public Health Nutrition, looked at 900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged zero to three years old.

The researchers found that 50% of the children had consumed sugary drinks, some beginning as early as the first year of life.

Lead author Dr Katie Thurber, from the ANU Research School of Population Health, said cordial was the most common drink, followed by soft drink and sweetened tea and coffee. 

Young children were less likely to have had sugary drinks if their families experienced socioeconomic advantage, social support, limited stressors, good wellbeing and had support from health services. 

Babies and toddlers living in cities and regional centres were significantly less likely to consume sugary drinks than children in remote areas. 

The researchers said this was linked to reduced access to safe drinking water, and the accessibility and affordability of recommended drinks.

“Families living in regional and remote settings have expressed concern about the safety and quality of drinking water,” Thurber said.

“This can leave families with no choice but to avoid tap water and instead buy bottled drinks, cordial or other sugary drinks.”

She said more needed to be done to improve the nutrition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, including ensuring a high-quality water supply.

“Reducing sugary drink intake will require improving water quality across Australia,” Thurber said.

“Families need relevant advice from health professionals, but improving information and knowledge is only part of the solution. We also need programs and policies to improve the social determinants of health if we want to improve nutrition.”

Does your organisation work in rural and remote areas? Why not submit a paper, panel or workshop on the theme of Rural, Remote & Regional Water for Ozwater’20? To find out more, click here.