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Journal article

Qualitative insights into Australian consumers’ views for and against government action on sugary drinks

Sugar tax Obesity Consumer behaviour Public health Australia

Despite significant evidence of harms associated with high levels of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption, and international moves towards regulation to curb overconsumption of such drinks, Australia has been slow to take policy action. This study provides in-depth insights into consumers’ reactions to different SSB policy options.

In this study, eight focus groups were undertaken with 59 regular SSB consumers and/or household purchasers, stratified by: young adults aged 21–29 years (no children), parents aged 35–50 (with children at home); gender; and socio-economic status. Consumer responses to potential government intervention and policy options were explored using thematic analysis.

Three main themes were identified. Theme 1 describes participants’ changing views on regulation of SSBs throughout the focus groups, expressed through shifts in understandings of personal responsibility and the role of government. It was noted that the term ‘regulation’ should be used judiciously, as it was widely misunderstood to infer bans. Theme 2 articulates the participants’ preference for child-focused measures and educative measures such as clearer front-of-pack labelling. Taxation on SSBs was viewed more favourably if paired with investment into education. Theme 3 describes the parallels that participants drew between SSBs and other substances.

The study concludes that a comprehensive approach that includes education, child-focused interventions and regulatory approaches may increase acceptability of policy measures to curb overconsumption of SSBs.

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