Intense competition in the carbonated-drink market has raised concerns among health experts that excessive consumption of sugary beverages will result in increased incidence of obesity and lifestyle-related diseases, especially among children.
They have urged the government to increase the tax on sugary beverages and to introduce measures to limit their consumption in schools.
The move follows the launch of massive campaigns by giant manufacturers of carbonated drinks in which more than a million cans of the stuff have been handed out for free to consumers across the country.
Health Department director-general Dr Jetsada Chokedamrongsuk said the campaigns would result in increased consumption of soft drinks, boosting the public’s sugar intake – especially among children – and having an impact on public health.
“They give these carbonated soft drinks away free of charge to people, but the taste of this kind of beverage is addictive,” he said.
Soft drinks cause obesity because of their high sugar content, which also leads to dental problems, the doctor said.
He acknowledged that the marketing blitzes had affected the activities of the department, which is trying to raise awareness among the public of the need to limit their daily sugar intake.
The Education Ministry is concerned that the give-aways will neutralise the effects of its campaign urging students not to drink carbonated soft drinks at school.
“Many schools across the country no longer allow students to drink carbonated beverages … because of the impact on their health, but the distribution of more than a million cans of [free] carbonated drinks will cause students to relapse into addiction,” said a ministry source who asked not be named.
According to the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, some 12-15 per cent of Thai primary-school students are obese.
Piyathida Prasertsom, a manager of the foundation’s Sweet Enough Network, said it had urged soft-drink manufacturers many times to reduce the scale of their campaigns, which boost sugar intake, but to no avail.
“Instead of reducing their campaigns, they told us to tell consumers to get more exercise,” she said.
The network has expressed concern not only about the massive marketing campaigns of soft drinks, but also of non-carbonated beverages, as they too contain a lot of sugar.
Piyathida said the best way to prevent children from consuming a lot of sugar was to tax sugary beverages more heavily, with the amount of tax corresponding to the sugar content.
Some countries, including Australia, have adopted tax measures to control consumption of sugary beverages. But in Thailand, such a plan has not moved beyond the study phase, she said.