Why MLHD's soft drink ban in a step in the right direction: opinion

THE boy grabs the can of soft drink from the bowels of the vending machine and with a hiss and a pop, pulls back the tab.

He takes a swig of the can and bounds down the corridor with renewed purpose.

He walks past a ward housing a number of new bariatric beds – aimed at carrying patients weighing up to 454kg – and arrives at the Wagga hospital’s intensive care unit. He’s visiting his grandfather, who has just had his right leg amputated after a battle with type 2 diabetes.

“G’day, young fella,” the old man says, suddenly clocking the can of soft drink in the boy’s hand. “Be careful of that stuff, it’ll kill you.”

There’s a pregnant pause. The boy forces a smile and looks down at his granddad’s missing leg.

“But Pop, they sell it at a hospital, it can’t be that bad for you,” he says.

At just 11, the boy has struck upon a glaring hypocrisy evident in our public hospital system.

Administrators at Murrumbidgee Local Health District last year finally recognised this, showing admirable leadership by banning sugary drinks from sale in our hospitals. Ten months on from the ban and the results are stunning – 96 per cent of drinks sold are now compliant.

With the Riverina holding the dubious honour of being the fattest region in NSW, the ban holds both symbolic and practical importance.

Some might argue that visitors – and indeed patients – have a right to choose whatever drink they want.

But there’s a tipping point in every debate and the tipping point has arrived in the obesity debate.

A person’s journey to morbid obesity is long, complex and deeply personal.

But for many, ingesting obscene amounts of sugar through drinks is an inescapable part of that journey.

Staggeringly, one solitary can of soft drink a day amounts to 14kg of extra sugar in a person’s diet each year.

On average, that accounts for a 6.5kg annual weight gain through soft drink alone.

Just like tobacco consumption, we know sugar consumption can lead to a catalogue of health problems.

Making tobacco less available and more expensive has seen smoking rates plummet in recent years.

It’s time we took a similarly “hard” stance on “soft” drink.