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Sugar sweetened beverages – what the Australian Health Survey reveals

A secondary analysis of the Australian Health Survey nutrition data (2011-12) commissioned by the Australian Beverages Council and conducted by the CSIRO Food and Nutrition Flagship provides the best information available about non-alcoholic beverage consumption. We take a deep dive into the detail.

soft drink in glasses.jpg
Which beverages were researched?
Non-dairy, non-alcoholic beverages: water, fruit juice, low kilojoule drinks and sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) which includes soft drinks, sports drinks, flavoured water, fruit drinks and cordial.

How much energy is contributed by beverages across the population?

Total beverages: 4.1% of total energy intake
SSB: 3.2% of total daily energy in adults (of which sugar sweetened soft drinks contribute 1.7%)

Total beverages: 5.5%
SSB: 4.3% of total daily energy children and teens (of which sugar sweetened soft drinks contribute 1.9%)

The mean population daily intake of SSB was 125ml (0.3 of a can), although teenage boys consumed 435ml (1.2 cans).

How many people drink SSBs?
On the day of the survey, 34% of people over 2 years consumed sugar sweetened beverages. Of these, 19.9% adults and 25% of children and teens reported drinking sugar sweetened soft drinks, which contributed 9% and 7.7% of total energy respectively.

Who are the biggest SSB consumers?
Teenage boys are the highest consumers of sugar sweetened soft drinks: 37% of teenage boys consumed them the day of the survey.

Young children are the highest consumers of fruit drinks (11%) and cordial (20%).

A greater proportion of men (36%) consume SSB than women (25%)

Which SSB are consumed the most?
Soft drinks and fruit drinks contributed 60-75% of the total SSB for most age groups. Cordial consumption is significant in young children but declines with age and is replaced by soft drinks. Sports and energy drinks make up only a small proportion of the total SSB intake. Fruit juice contributes less than 1% of total energy on average to the population.

How do SSB contribute to total discretionary choices?

The top contributor toward total discretionary food intake across the adult population is alcoholic beverages (17.3% discretionary intake)

In children it is cakes, muffins, scones and cake-type desserts (11.2%).
Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters contributed 5.2% in adults and 5.7% in children and teens.
Discretionary fruit and vegetable juices and drinks contributed 2% in adults and 3.1% in children and teens
Cordials contributed 1.4% in adults and 2.1% in children and teens
Electrolyte, energy and fortified drinks contributed 0.9% in adults and 0.5% in children and teens.

The majority of the population (66%) did not consume any SSB on the day of the survey, but what about those who did?

Mean amounts consumed by adults:
585ml SSB
579ml low kilojoule beverages
313ml fruit juice

Mean amounts consumed by children and teens:
476ml SSB
380ml low kilojoule beverages
302ml fruit juice

The highest volumes were reported were for sports drinks (675ml for adults; 585ml for children), but these were consumed by only 1.2% of adults and 1.5% of children.

How much sugar do beverages contribute?
contributed 17% of total sugars across the population; 21% in children and 16% in adults.

SSB contributed 16.5% total sugars in children and teens and 12.7% in adults.

Unsweetened fruit juice contributed 4.6% total sugars in children and teens and 3.1% in adults

Are there differences by socio-economic group?

Lower socio-economic groups consumed more SSB, and less water and fruit juice. The highest water consumption was found in the highest quintile of socioeconomic status.

City-dwellers consumed 40ml less SSB but slightly more fruit juice and low kilojoule drinks than people in regional and remote areas.

Are there associations between beverage habits and weight status?

From the cross sectional data from the Australian Health Survey, there was no association between the proportion of adults consuming SSB and weight status.

Similar mean daily intakes were reported for normal, overweight and obese adults.

In girls there was a positive association between a higher proportion of consumers and total consumption of SSB and increasing weight, but not for boys.

There were no associations between fruit juice and weight in adults or children and teens.

There was an association between increasing weight and the proportion of men, women and boys consuming low-kilojoule beverages, but not in girls.

Have our beverage habits changed over time?
Of the comparisons that can be made between the different data sets of the Australian Health Survey (AHS) and the previous National Nutrition Survey (NNS), the following trends emerge:

A substantial increase in volume of water consumed.
A small decrease in percentage consuming soft drinks/flavoured water.
A small decrease in the volume of soft drink/flavoured water.

A decrease in the percentage of children consuming soft drinks/flavoured water, and fruit and vegetable juices/drinks.
A decrease in the mean volume of soft drinks/flavoured water, and fruit and vegetable juices/drinks consumed.

Over the past twenty years, both the percentage of adults and children consuming sugar sweetened beverages, and the volume consumed, has decreased.

You can access the full report here.

NEXT: Discretionary food intake in Australian children and adolescents 

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