Sugary drinks in public health services

Removing sugary drinks from your organisation

Health services have a key leadership role in providing healthier food and drink options to support the health and wellbeing of their staff and visitors.  

The decision to remove sugary drinks from Victorian public health services is based on a large body of evidence of the benefits including: 

Sugary drink consumption is associated with increased risk of weight gain and dental caries. Unhealthy weight is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, some musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers.  

The Victorian Government’s Healthy choices: policy directive for Victorian public health services (Policy directive) requires that sugary (or RED category) drinks are not sold, provided or promoted/advertised in public health services, through their: 

  • in-house managed retail food outlets
  • vending machines (see Policy vending plan-o-gram resource)
  • staff/visitor catering
  • items purchased by staff/visitors from inpatient/resident menus.   

Policy Directive requirements - drinks 

The Policy directive for drinks requires that:  

  1. No sugary (or RED drinks) are to be available or promoted/advertised. 

  2. Drinks classified GREEN must be at least 50 per cent of the total proportion of drinks available or displayed.  

  3. Drinks containing artificial sweeteners (classified AMBER) must be no more than 20 per cent of the total proportion of drinks available or displayed. This excludes any milk-based drink that contains artificial sweetener. 

Health services are also encouraged to have free drinking water (for example, water fountains, jugs of tap water) readily available and promoted.  

Using FoodChecker, you can find healthier options and find out which drinks are classified as GREEN, AMBER and RED

You can access FoodChecker for free via: https://foodchecker.heas.health.vic.gov.au/  

What are sugary drinks? 

Sugary drinks (or sugar-sweetened beverages) include all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks with added sugar. ‘Sugar-sweetened’ refers to products with added sweetener, for example sucrose (sugar), fructose, glucose, honey, fruit juice concentrate, fruit sugar syrup, deionised fruit juice and similar ingredients. This includes, but is not limited to regular sugar versions of the following:  

  • soft drinks 
  • energy drinks  
  • fruit drinks or fruit juice with added sugar 
  • sports drinks/waters 
  • cordials 
  • flavoured mineral waters 
  • flavoured waters 
  • kombucha with added sugar 
  • coconut water with added sugar  
  • flavoured iced teas 
  • ice crushes

These drinks are classified as RED according to the Victorian Government’s Healthy Choices guidelines and are based on ‘discretionary choices’ in the Australian dietary guidelines. These items are not essential in a balanced diet and can contribute to excess energy intake, overweight and obesity and chronic disease if consumed frequently or in large amounts.  

Other RED category drinks that are not to be available, provided or advertised/promoted under the Policy directive include:  

  • Large serves of fruit juice (over 250ml)
  • Flavoured milks more than 1600kJ per serve 
  • Artificially sweetened energy drinks in large serve sizes (over 250 ml) 
  • High protein drinks and protein shakes (over 300 ml)  
  • Alcoholic drinks 

What drinks can be sold or provided? 

  • Water – plain, sparkling or flavoured with natural essence 
  • Milk or alternatives, plain and some flavoured  
  • Juices with at least 99% fruit (with no added sugar)  
  • Artificially sweetened (diet) drinks (with no added sugar) 

Examples of GREENAMBER and AMBER artificially sweetened drinks include: 

GREEN AMBER RED
  • Plain still or sparkling water.  

  • Water flavoured with natural essence.  

  • Reduced fat plain milk or alternatives* 

  • Reduced-fat flavoured milk or alternatives*equal to or less than 900 kJ per serve.   

  • Tea or coffee with reduced fat milk and no added sugar 

  • Fruit juice (99% real fruit juice, no added sugar and less than 250mL serve size).   

  • Regular fat plain milk 

  • Reduced-fat flavoured milk or alternatives* that are between 900–1,600 kJ per serve.  

  • Regular-fat flavoured milk or alternatives*equal to or less than 1,600 kJ per serve.  

  • Kombucha and other fermented soft drinks (less than 1 g of sugar per 100 mL, alcoholcontent equal to or less than 0.5%) 

  • 100% coconut water (no added sugar) and less than 300 kJ 

  • Tea or coffee with regular fat milk and added sugar. 

  • ‘Diet’, ‘no sugar’ and ‘low joule’ drinks with no added sugar 

  • ‘Diet’ or “Zero sugar” soft drinks.   

  • Artificially sweetened energy drinksless than 250mL serve size.  

  • “Zero sugar” sports drinks.  

  • “Zero sugar” iced teas. 

* with at least 100mg calcium added per 100mL 

Artificially or intensely sweetened drinks 

Artificially or intensely sweetened drinks (including ‘diet’, ‘no sugar’ and ‘low joule’) include less sugar and energy than regular sweet drinks.  

Some drinks advertised as ‘diet’, ‘reduced-sugar’ or ‘low-sugar’ may include both artificial/intense sweetener and added sugar. Artificially sweetened drinks are in the AMBER category if they include no added sugar. Under the Policy directive, AMBER category artificially sweetened drinks can make up to 20 per cent of the total proportion of drinks available or displayed. This excludes AMBER flavoured milks. 

Examples of artificial or intense sweeteners (including natural sweeteners) are aspartame, saccharin, steviol glycosides, monk fruit extract, erythritol, sorbitol, xyitol, mannitol and sucralose. 

Whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners, all carbonated soft drinks are acidic. Frequent consumption can contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel, a major factor in tooth decay.  

Artificially sweetened drinks should be provided in the smallest serve size available (for example, less than 375 ml cans).  

Note: This information does not apply to artificially sweetened flavoured milk drinks. For more information on classifying flavoured milks, refer to pg 36 of the Healthy choices: food and drink classification guide 

Encouraging healthier drink choices and nudging change 

There are a number of ways you can nudge customers and staff to make healthier drink choices by changing how drinks are placed, priced and promoted.  

Some ‘nudges’ you could trial in retail outlets and vending machines include: 

  • Adopt a phased approach to gradually remove RED drinks. Start by reducing some of the lowest selling RED drink options, then gradually start removing the availability of higher selling RED drinks.  
  • Start communicating the changes with your organisation’s staff via internal communication channels, such as email or the organisation’s intranet. 
  • Once RED stock is selling through, begin replacing these with GREEN or AMBER options.  
  • Incentivise the purchasing of GREEN drinks by subsidising the price or including them in healthy meal deals.  
  • Display GREEN drinks most prominently (e.g. at eye level). 

Learn more about how to promote healthy choices in retail food outlets here. 

See VicHealth’s 'Healthy choice: the easy choice’ webpage for more examples and suggestions of ‘nudges’ you can try.  

For more information 

  1. The Policy directive - overview   
  2. Healthy Choices - tips on getting started
  3. Vending plan-o-gram to meet the Policy 

View our case studies to see how other organisations have reduced or removed sugary drinks from their food service: