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Sellers of sports drinks may soon be able to add ‘misleading’ health claims

Sellers of sports drinks may soon be able to add ‘misleading’ health claims
July 18, 2015

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is pushing ahead with a proposal that would reclassify electrolyte sports drinks – products like Gatorade and Powerade – as ‘supplements’, not soft drinks.

FSANZ is reportedly set to allow these drinks to carry health claims on their labels.

The plan, delayed for almost a year after objections from health experts, proposes to allow science-based health claims to be added to these drinks, despite the risk of confusion and seemingly widespread ignorance about the true purpose of these drinks.

Jane Martin Senior Policy Advisor at Australia’s Obesity Policy Coalition is concerned by the proposal, stating “if this change is made, then I think it will make these drinks more attractive than they currently are.”

The only ‘electrolytes’ commonly found in these drinks are sodium and smaller amounts of potassium. The main nutrient is sugar (often as much as contained in a can of soft drink), which is not by definition an electrolyte.

Martin added “given they are high in sugar and salt, they are not designed for the average person who wouldn’t do enough exercise to warrant these drinks,” Ms Martin said.

However, a report commissioned by FSANZ found that consumers feel these athlete-specific products are aimed at them.

The reported stated “although electrolyte drinks are seemingly marketed towards elite athletes, respondents felt that marketing is really aimed towards the general public, and this is certainly supported by the prominence of electrolyte drinks and availability for purchase via many outlets.”

The report noted that electrolyte drinks are sold at locations including supermarkets, corner stores, sporting events, sports club houses, petrol stations, railway station vending machines and school canteens.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) advises that thes drinks should be completely avoided by anyone doing less than 45 minutes of exercise, adding that even for those doing 75 minutes of exercise, a single mouth swill per hour may be enough.

In a submission to FSANZ, the Cancer Council Australia stated “allowing health claims to appear on electrolyte drink labels may suggest that (electrolyte drinks) are appropriate for the general population regardless of physical activity levels, when they are only suitable for the small minority of Australians participating in sustained high-intensity or endurance activities of more than 45 minutes duration.”

In its submission the Auckland Regional Public Health Service said the addition of health claims as a “marketing tool”, stating “manufacturers use health claims to create a ‘health halo’.

“A ‘halo’ means that consumers extend the claim beyond its intended purpose.

“Already, adolescents hold a misconception of the health benefits of electrolyte drinks, and we believe adding a health claim will further exacerbate this misconception.”

In 2001, an Australian researcher surveyed 78 teenagers. Just over half had consumed electrolyte drinks in the past two weeks, and listed ‘good taste’ and ‘quenched thirst’ amongst their reasons for doing so. None acknowledged the drinks should only be used after strenuous exercise.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service submission added “while we have all recognised that fizzy drinks are not good for our health, consumers are less savvy about electrolyte sports drinks.”

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