The Australian Dental Association urges policymakers to rethink sugary drinks for improved oral and systemic health.

Rethink Sugary Drinks, an alliance of 21 health and community organizations, calls on the Australian Government to introduce a health levy on sugary drinks for improved health in the country.

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From left to right: Jane Martin (Food for Health Alliance’s Executive Manager), Dr Angie Nilsson (ADA Board Director), Professor Steve Robson (Australian Medical Association President) and Tanya Buchanan (Cancer Council Australia CEO)


Excessive consumption of sugars from snacks, processed foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is one of the major factors causing worldwide increases in oral disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

In 2023, FDI adopted a Position on Free Sugars, highlighting that free sugars are the leading cause of dental caries with 2 billion cases affecting permanent teeth and 510 million cases affecting deciduous teeth. Through its Position, FDI urges its members to tackle the issue of excessive sugar consumption within their respective countries. Many national dental associations (NDAs) have already embarked on proactive measures to combat this pervasive problem. Among them is the Australian Dental Association (ADA) who has partnered with diverse health and community organizations in an alliance entitled “Rethink Sugary Drink Alliance.”

Read this interview with ADA to discover more about the alliance and their efforts to tackle excessive sugar consumption in Australia.


Can you please tell us about the Rethink Sugary Drink Alliance?  

The Rethink Sugary Drink Alliance is an alliance of 21 leading health and community organizations, including influential partners such as the ADA, Australian Medical Association, Cancer Council, and Heart Foundation. These organizations and associations have come together to show their commitment to tackling the overconsumption of sugary drinks in Australia. Data from 2017−2018 found that 36% of adults and 41% of children consume sugary drinks at least weekly, with 9% of adults and 6% of children consuming them daily.[1] Therefore the Alliance is calling on the Australian Government to introduce a health levy on sugary drinks.

What motivated the decision to call for a health levy on sugary drinks? What constitutes sugary drinks?

Sugary drinks offer little to no nutritional value, are high in sugar and consumers do not offset the calories of these drinks by eating less, making overweight and obesity of large concern. Additionally frequent consumption is linked to oral health issues such as dental caries and erosion. Yet despite the well-publicized risks of sugary drinks to health, these drinks continued to be widely consumed in Australia.

The Alliance considers sugary drinks to include all non-alcoholic water-based beverages with added sugar such as non-diet soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks and cordial.

Why is engaging in the alliance to address sugar intake important to ADA and for oral health?

Partnering with influential and respected organizations helps to amplify our oral health messages to consumers and government.  Reinforcing the importance of decreasing sugar intake helps to highlight its detrimental impact on oral health as part of the effects on the wider body. This is crucial especially when it comes to funding as we are trying to get the government to ‘put the mouth back in the body’.

What do you hope to achieve through this legislation?  Have you encountered any pushbacks?

The Alliance is calling for the Australian Government to introduce a 20% health levy on sugary drink manufacturers with the aim to encourage manufacturers to reformulate their products to reduce sugar content. The overall goal is to lower Australians’ sugar consumption and use the revenue raised to increase oral health promotion efforts.

In terms of pushback, the representative body for the beverage industry has attempted to undermine the research released as part of the Alliance’s latest call for a Sugary Drink levy. Alternatively, a levy has strong public support. A national survey showed that 3 in 4 (77%) Australians supported a tax on sugary drinks if the funds raised were used to fund obesity prevention initiatives.


What are the next steps? Are there any important lessons that other National Dental Associations seeking to undertake similar advocacy efforts can keep in mind? 

The evidence from countries who have introduced a similar levy have shown effect.  The more countries who advocate for the introduction of a similar levy, the greater evidence will be collected. The ADA will continue to advocate for a sugary drink levy through its individual advocacy and together as part of the Rethink Sugary Drink Alliance. We encourage other NDAs to consider partnering with similar-minded organizations to create national discussion and influence in decreasing sugary drink consumption with the goal of improving their nation’s health.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited according to FDI’s editorial guidelines. The views expressed are those of the interviewee.



[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017-18) National Health Survey: First results, ABS, accessed 31 March 2023. statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/national-health-surveyfirst-results/latest-release