NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #rethinksugarydrink : A new campaign asking people to reduce their sugar intake highlights the link between obesity and 13 different types of cancer

 ” Obesity is now a leading preventable cause of cancer , but less than half of all Australians are aware of the link . A new campaign launched today by Cancer Council Victoria is aiming to change this.

In a ground-breaking new public awareness campaign, Cancer Council Victoria will expose the link between obesity and 13 types of cancer by depicting the toxic fat around internal organs.

As many as 98% of Australians are aware that obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but as little as 40% of Australians know about its link with cancer . ”

Being above a healthy weight is now a leading preventable cause of cancer. Our new campaign urges people to avoid to reduce their risk

You wouldn’t put this much sugar in a tea or coffee? But if you’re drinking one soft drink a day, over 20 years – that’s 73,000 teaspoons.”

Dr Gihan Jayaweera

A third of Victorians admit to drinking more than a litre of sugary drink each week 7, that’s more than 5.5kgs of sugar a year. We want people to realise that they could be drinking their way towards weight gain, obesity and toxic fat, increasing their risk of 13 types of cancer,”

Dr Ahmad Aly

 ” 69% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are considered overweight (29%) or obese (40%); among children this is 30% (20% overweight, 10% obese) “

Read over 60 NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Obesity articles

Or see Statistics part 2 Below 


Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, acknowledged that the campaign’s portrayal of toxic fat could be confronting but said so was the fact that nearly two-thirds of Australians were overweight or obese 4.

“While talking about weight is a sensitive issue, we can’t shy away from the risk being above a healthy weight poses to our health.” Mr Harper said.

“With around 3,900 cancers in Australia each year linked to being above a healthy weight, it’s vital that we work hard to help people understand the link and encourage them to take steps to reduce their risk 5.”

Sugary drinks contribute the most added sugar to Australians’ diets 6, so Cancer Council Victoria is focusing on how these beverages can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which can increase the risk of certain cancers. The campaign will communicate that one way of reducing the risk is to cut sugary drinks from your diet.

The ad features Melbourne surgeon Dr Ahmad Aly exposing in graphic detail what sugary drinks could be doing to your health, as his laparoscopic camera delves inside a patient’s body to expose the dangerous toxic fat around internal organs.

Watch Video 

Dr Aly has seen first-hand the impact toxic fat has on people’s health and hopes the campaign will make people think again before reaching for sugary drinks.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said that while the campaign aims to get people thinking about their own habits, Cancer Council Victoria and partner organisations are also working to encourage governments, the food industry, and communities to make changes.

“It’s virtually impossible to escape the enormous amount of marketing for sugary drinks surrounding us on TV, social media and public transport. It’s also easier to get a sugary drink than it is to find a water fountain in many public places, and that’s got to change. We need to take sugary drinks out of schools, recreation and healthcare settings to make it easier for Victorians to make healthy choices.”

“The need for a healthy weight strategy in Victoria, as well as nationally, is overdue. In the same way tobacco reforms have saved lives, we now need to apply the same approach to improving diets”, Ms Martin said.

Case study: Fiona Humphreys

Since giving up the sweet stuff, Fiona Humphreys has more energy and has managed to shed the kilos and keep them off.

“I used to drink at least two sugary drinks every day as a pick me up, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I was addicted to the sugar rush and thought I needed them to get through my busy day.”

“After giving up sugary drinks I saw an immediate change in both my mood and my waistline. I lost 7 kilos just by making that one simple change and I haven’t looked back.”

“I decided to go cold turkey and switched to soda or mineral water with a slice of lime or lemon. I tricked my mind to enjoy the bubbles and put it into a beautiful glass. I feel healthier and my mind is clearer as a result.”

The campaign will run for five weeks and be shown on TV and radio and will feature across social media channels as well as outdoors across the state.

A dedicated campaign website will provide factsheets for health professionals and consumers and digital elements about how to make small lifestyle changes to improve people’s health.

Top tips to avoid sugary drinks 

  • Avoid going down the soft drink aisle at the supermarket and beware of the specials at the checkout and service stations.
  • If you’re eating out, don’t go with the default soft drink – see what other options there are, or just ask for water.
  • Carry a water bottle, so you don’t have to buy a drink if you’re thirsty.
  • Herbal teas, sparkling water, home-made smoothies or fruit infused water are simple alternatives that still taste great.
  • For inspiration and recipe ideas visit

How is sugar linked to weight gain

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate which provides energy to the body. However, eating too much sugar over time can lead to weight gain. Strong evidence shows that being above a healthy weight increases the risk of developing 13 different types of cancer and chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Let’s unpack what happens when our body receives more energy than it needs, how this can lead to weight gain and what you can do to decrease your risk of cancer.

Where do we find sugar?

In terms of health risks, we need to be concerned about ‘added sugar’. That is, sugar that has been added to food or drink.

Natural sugars in foods

  • Fruit and milk products
  • High in nutrients – vitamins, minerals, fibre or calcium.
  • We should eat these foods every day.

Sugar added to food

  • Processed foods
  • These foods are unhealthy and high in energy (kJ).
  • They don’t have other nutrients we need such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
  • We should limit these foods.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities tend to have higher rates of obesity and sugary drink consumption and experience poorer health outcomes as a result.

We know that more than half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community drink sugary drinks almost every day.

The Overview also examined factors contributing to health, including nutrition and body weight. Some statistics of note include:

  • dietary risks contribute 9.7% to the total burden of disease for Aboriginal people
  • 69% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are considered overweight (29%) or obese (40%); among children this is 30% (20% overweight, 10% obese)
  • 54% of Indigenous Australians meet the daily recommended serves of fruit; only 8% meet the daily recommended serves of vegetables
  • both measures are lower in remote communities compared with urban areas and intake is far more likely to be inadequate among the unemployed and those who did not finish school
  • on average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consume 41% of their daily energy in the form of discretionary foods — 8.8% as cereal-based products (cakes, biscuits & pastries) and 6.9% as non-alcoholic beverages (soft drinks)
  • average daily sugar consumption is 111g — two-thirds (or the equivalent of 18tsp of white sugar) of which are free sugars from discretionary foods and beverages
  • 22% of Aboriginal people reported running out of food and being unable to afford more in the past 12 months; 7% said they had run out and gone hungry — both were more prevalent in remote areas

In the latest issue of JournalWatch, Dr Melissa Stoneham takes a look at obesity in Australia’s remote Indigenous communities and the struggle to eat well against the odds

Read in full at Croakey

Yorta Yorta woman Michelle Crilly gave up her sugary drink habit and hasn’t looked back. Watch her story.

Video: Rethink Sugary Drink - Michelle Crilly

Read more about the ‘Our Stories’ campaign and hear from more inspiring Victorian Aboriginal community members who have cut back on sugary drinks on our partner site Rethink Sugary Drink.

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