A Better Start National Science Challenge has welcomed a Government proposal to ban fizzy and sugary drinks in primary schools.

Under the new initiative, announced by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins yesterday, pupils will only be allowed to drink water, milk and non-dairy milk substitutes.

Sugar-sweetened drinks account for more than a quarter of children’s sugar intake in New Zealand and the proposed ban has been welcomed by principals, health experts and A Better Start National Science Challenge’s healthy weight researchers.

“It is hard to argue there is a need for these products in schools,” says Professor Rachael Taylor, who leads the Healthy Weight team for A Better Start.

There can be quite a difference, she says, between what families experience in early childhood education centres – which often have pretty strict guidelines around healthy eating – and then what is available when their children enter the school system.

“Does it make sense if a school teaches children that these drinks are not healthy in their curriculum but then makes them available in the canteen?”

She praises the many schools who are “doing great things” around promoting good nutrition, but says Government restrictions could be a positive nationwide approach.

It is possible, she says, that some children would opt to buy fizzy drinks from the nearby dairy instead if the ban was introduced – “however this is less likely in this age group as they have less disposable income. And it [the ban] still keeps our schools as healthy places for learning.”

Sweetened beverages are a major source of sugar in our diets, says Professor Taylor, and most offer no nutritional benefit, though juices do contain some Vitamin C.

“Fizzy drinks and fruit drinks are very detrimental to teeth and strongly related to less healthy body weights in children.”

And diet drinks are not much better. “They don’t contain the sugar, but they still contain the acid which is bad for teeth,” says Professor Taylor, who is a director at the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre at the University of Otago.

The proposal to ban fizzy and sugary drinks in primary schools will now go out for public consultation.