NACCHO Health News Alert : Scullion says sugary soft drinks ‘killing the population’ in remote Aboriginal communities


In the wake of this week’s progress report on Closing the Gap, the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has declared sugary soft drinks are “killing the population” in remote Indigenous communities.

Key points:

  • Closing the Gap report found worst health outcomes found in remote communities
  • One remote community store drawing half of total profits from soft drink sales, Senator Scullion says
  • Senator Scullion says he thinks attitudes to soft drink are changing

According to evidence provided to Senate estimates today, at least 1.1 million litres of so-called “full sugar” soft drink was sold in remote community stores last financial year.


“I think particularly in remote communities and very remote communities sugar is just killing the population,” Senator Scullion said.

“[It’s] putting them into that very high risk area before they get to an age where those chronic diseases are evident.”

Today’s figures were provided by Outback Stores, which runs 36 small supermarkets in remote Aboriginal communities.

The company’s chief executive Steven Moore told the committee the figures for soft drink sales are “astounding”.

“I think we can all agree that poor diet in communities with consumption of fat, salt and sugar has a large impact on life expectancy in communities,” he said.

“Full sugar soft drinks are a major contributor.”

The Closing the Gap report from the Federal Government earlier this week found little progress towards bridging the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

It said the worst health outcomes, in terms of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses were found in remote communities.

Most expensive soft drink still flies off the shelves

Senator Scullion said he has been working with remote stores to restrict the sale of larger bottles of soft drink.

“I’ve been trying to negotiate the two litre and 1.5 litres off the shelves completely,” Senator Scullion said.

“It’s a difficult thing but the evidence shows that whatever portion you buy, a child will drink oneand-a-half litres.”

More recently he went to a community store where water was free, but despite trying to “hide the full-strength coke” it was the popular choice.

He gave one example where a remote community store was drawing half of its total profits from soft drink sales.

“It was the most expensive liquid in that store and everyone went straight there,” Senator Scullion said.

Mr Moore said all Outback Stores have a health and nutrition policy.

He said diet soft drinks and bottled water have “preferential pricing” and are placed more prominently on the supermarket shelves.

“Our figures show that it is working, we are reducing the market share but it is very slow progress,” he said.

He said Outback Stores wanted to reduce soft drink sales, and the supplier Coca Cola Amatil “want to get the market share down too”.

Senator Scullion said he thinks attitudes to soft drink are changing.

“I think we are on the crest of the wave of understanding in the communities of the connection between health outcomes and the sort of foods you eat,” he said.


Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Close the Gap Campaign for the governments of Australia to commit to achieving equality  for Indigenous people in the areas of health and  life expectancy within 25 years.

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