Adverse health consequences of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages are frequently cited as an example of market failure, justifying government intervention in the marketplace, usually in the form of taxation. However, declining sales of sugar-sweetened beverages in Australia and a corresponding increase in sales of drinks containing non-nutritive sweeteners, in the absence of significant government regulation, appear to reflect market forces at work. If so, the public health challenge in relation to sugar-sweetened beverages may have less to do with regulating the market and more to do with harnessing it. Contrary to assertions that consumers fail to appreciate the links between their choice of beverage and its health consequences, the health conscious consumer appears to be driving the changes taking place in the beverage market. With the capacity to meet consumer expectations for convenience and indulgence without unwanted kilojoules, drinks containing non-nutritive sweeteners enable the “small change” in health behaviour that individuals are willing to consider. Despite the low barriers involved in perpetuating the current trend of replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with drinks containing non-nutritive sweeteners, some public health advocates remain cautious about advocating this dietary change. In contrast, the barriers to taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages appear high.
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