06 May, 2015 Last updated: 06 May, 2015

In March 2014 the World Health Organization released its draft guidelines on sugar intake for adults and children with a warning: drinking just one can of soft drink a day could be bad for you.

The draft guideline proposes that less than 5% of total energy intake per day comes from sugars. This is equivalent to around 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI). 1

There are up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a standard can of soft drink, and up to 16 in a 600ml bottle.2 Dissolved and invisible but not benign, the excess sugar intake from sugary drinks is contributing to many preventable diseases for Australians. A high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with poor health outcomes, such as increased risk of weight gain and tooth decay.

Nearly two-thirds of Victorians are classified as overweight or obese and that proportion is predicted to rise. Researchers estimate that by 2025, over 75% of adults and one-third of Australian children will be overweight or obese and at severe risk of type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.3 To avoid this confronting projection, VicHealth is promoting the benefits of drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, iced teas, fruit drinks, cordials and flavoured waters. 

H30 ChallengeThe H30 Challenge encourages Victorians to make a 30-day pledge to switch from sugary drinks to water. This initiative aligns with our strategic imperative to promote healthy eating, and three-year priority of more people choosing water and healthy food options. 

Over the past six months VicHealth has been targeting sugary drink consumers through advertising, media and stakeholder networks. VicHealth has also formed partnerships with sporting associations, such as the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Melbourne Stars, to build support for the H30 Challenge and its message. 

While the campaign encourages all Victorians to drink more water and less sugary drinks, the H30 Challenge has a particular focus on 18- to 34- year-olds, who are some of the highest consumers of sugary drinks. 

Melbourne is blessed with pristine water collected from the mountains circling our city. It’s a marketer’s dream! So why are we buying sugary drinks, often laden with the unnecessary sugar additive, when we can be quenching our thirst with nature’s finest? 

A pattern of behaviour sees us line up and spend our hard-earned wages too often on sugary drinks that have the potential to seriously impact our health. Water is widely available and practically free but we often overlook its presence and its qualities.

The H30 Challenge campaign is informed by rigorous research including in-depth interviews, focus groups and quantitative testing of the most promising creative ideas with target audiences. Audiences responded strongly to the idea of a challenge encouraging people to
make the switch. 

VicHealth CEO, Jerril Rechter, said the aim is to make the shift easy for Victorians by working with partners who interface with consumers to raise awareness of the benefits of water and health risks of sugary drinks. 

"Australian dietary guidelines recommend we drink plenty of water and limit foods and drinks containing added sugars. The H30 Challenge is part of an integrated water initiative aligned with the goal of getting more Victorians to choose water instead of drinks with added sugar," says Ms Rechter.

VicHealth is collaborating with the City of Melbourne to undertake innovative research to increase water access in the CBD. A new design of water fountain that includes a tap to refill your water bottle is being trialled. Evidence indicates that people are concerned about hygiene when drinking from fountains, so this project will test whether the refill tap is a more accessible and acceptable way to provide water in public spaces.

The City of Melbourne was selected for the one-off trial due to the high volume of Victorians entering the CBD each day, ensuring adequate data is collected. Sites were informed by research into pedestrian traffic, sports and recreation spaces, and availability of water and/or drinks with added sugar. The new fountains are conveniently located in shopping precincts, between meeting venues and in parklands. No queues, no cost.

The trial is expected to provide valuable learnings. 

Ms Jan Black, Policy Adviser at the Municipal Association of Victoria said, "Designing and trialling different kinds of water fountains can assist councils to meet changing community needs. Taps and water fountains in public spaces help people make easier choices to drink water which is free, and is the healthiest beverage of all."

A range of activities are underway as part of the water initiative to inform the development of best-practice guidelines for provision of drinking water in key public settings for health promotion purposes. This includes research to assess the current supply and access patterns of drinking water in sports and recreation facilities and spaces, public transport nodes and the construction industry. 

Other research focuses on supply of water within high-risk licensed premises. Results will determine whether changes in supply, accessibility and promotion of drinking water impacts patron behaviour and, if so, what that impact might be in relation to alcohol harm reduction. The objective is to develop best-practice guidelines in partnership with the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulations.

H30 challenge highlights

  • Over 6000 people have registered to participate in VicHealth’s H30 Challenge since its launch in September 2014.
  • High profile celebrity ambassadors have lent their support to the H30 Challenge including former competitive swimmer Giaan Rooney OAM, cycling legends Cadel Evans and Phil Anderson, and Dale Vine (The Block).
  • The campaign is the Official Hydration Partner of sporting clubs the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne City Football Club, and also the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
  • Water bottles were distributed to spectators by each partner, with advertising encouraging people to sign-up to the H30 Challenge.

1 WHO draft guidelines on sugar intake for adults and children
2 Kilojoules and grams of sugar have been taken from the Nutrition Information Panel of each drink and are correct as at 15 September 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2015
3 VicHealth 2014, Negative growth: the future of obesity in Australia, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.