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New Zealand dentist Rob Beaglehole convinces World Health Organisation to remove sugary drinks

Dr Rob Beaglehole has helped make water the first choice for staff at the World Health Organisation.

An international health organisation has decided to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand hospitals and ban sugar-sweetened beverages from its sites.

When Nelson dentist Dr Rob Beaglehole​ told staff at the World Health Organisation in Geneva they should ban sugary drinks, they laughed at him, he said.

"They said it was basically impossible. But I said it was a leadership issue, and it was embarrassing for them that they sold these drinks to their staff when they're the world's leading health organisation."

One Nelson man has had a profound impact on the World Health Organisation.

Beaglehole, the principal dental officer for Nelson Marlborough Health, was working for the organisation on a three-month sabbatical, advocating a tax on sugary drinks to world health leaders and giving public seminars.

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The organisation asked him if there was anything else he would like to work on. He said it was time they followed their own guidelines and banned sugar-sweetened beverages.


Dr Rob Beaglehole has spent three months at the World Health Organisation advocating tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The World Health Organisation's guideline on sugar intake for adults and children recommended no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day.

A typical can of soda contained about eight teaspoons of sugar, and a glass of fruit juice had nearly 10 teaspoons. 

Beaglehole was extremely grateful to Nelson Marlborough Health for sending him on the sabbatical, where he was part of a team of five that campaigned for the change by meeting with departments and surveying staff.

"It was successful because I could use New Zealand as an example. I said, 'there were hardly any complaints, and staff and the public are very supportive'," he said.

"It's a small step but it's significant because it signals to other countries that sugary drinks are harmful."

The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board banned diet soft drinks, juices, flavoured water and smoothies from the district's hospitals earlier this year.

"I helped with that here, and now all district health boards in the country have a sugar-sweetened beverage policy. So I'm pleased to be able to say it started here in little old Nelson and Marlborough."

​Feedback from the organisation had been positive, and other United Nations organisations were considering adopting the policy too, Beaglehole said.

His victory at the World Health Organisation was symptomatic of a culture shift, but it was just one step and there was much more work to be done, he said.

"The healthy choice should be the easy choice."

The New Zealand Dental Association was campaigning for a tax on sugary drinks, aiming at decreasing consumption, as well as removing celebrity sponsorship of sugary drinks and encouraging schools to have a policy similar to the one adopted by the World Health Organisation.

Beaglehole had helped to convince ministers from other countries such as the Philippines and Mauritius to start a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, and he was disappointed the New Zealand Government was lagging behind, he said.

"We're calling on the Government to instigate taxes for the sake of our children, and the sake of our taxpayers," Beaglehole said.

"The Minster of Health, Jonathan Coleman, and the Minister for Finance, Bill English, need to wake up and realise sugary drinks are causing a huge amount of harm, and costing the taxpayers huge amounts of money. It just doesn't make any sense for us not to."

The Marlborough Express



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