Health claims on sports drinks would mislead consumers, warns CHOICE



  • 4 Aug 2014
  • Author:Rachel Clemons

01.CHOICE opposes proposal

A public consultation process run by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is calling for electrolyte drinks (EDs) such as Gatorade and Powerade to be able to carry health claims.

But CHOICE warns that allowing health claims on these types of sports drinks, which by definition contain a significant amount of sugar and salt, will mislead consumers into thinking that they’re generally a healthy option, and has made a submission opposing the proposal.

Electrolyte drinks formulated for athletes, not general use

CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey says, “Sports drinks can help elite athletes but they aren’t designed for everyday use. Health claims on sports drinks would only apply to a limited group of people but drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are marketed and sold to everyone.”

“Most people will receive no health benefit from a bright blue sugar drink. Sports drinks belong on the shelves next to Coke and lemonade, not in the health food aisle and the claims on the label need to reflect this,” he says.

EDs are specifically formulated for the rapid replacement of fluid, carbohydrates, electrolytes and minerals – ostensibly for people engaging in strenuous or prolonged exercise. Consequently the Food Standards Code requires them to contain a certain amount of sugar and salt.

High sugar content


A standard 600mL bottle of Gatorade contains 36g of sugar, for example, which is comparable to the 40g sugar in a standard 375mL can of Coca-Cola – both of which are labelled as single serves, to be consumed in one sitting.

Under the current health claims standard, Gatorade wouldn’t meet the necessary Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria (NPSC) due to its high sugar content and associated kilojoule content, and therefore wouldn’t be eligible to make a health claim. However the current proposal wouldn’t require EDs to meet the NPSC in order to make a health claim.

The NPSC is an important consumer protection test, to ensure that consumers aren’t misled. Godfrey argues, “People should have the confidence that if a product has a health claim, then it is a healthier product. Creating a loophole for sports drinks is a backwards step.”

EDs only produce benefits for a small subset of the Australian population, and even then the benefits are limited. The Australian Institute of Sport states that athletes need to undertake high-intensity exercise of approximately 60 minutes or more to benefit from consuming EDs, for example.

Sports drinks ‘widely available’


Despite this, they are marketed to and consumed by a much wider audience. Australians drink millions of litres of EDs each year and the sports drinks market increased in grocery value by 13.3% last year. And consumer research highlights that many individuals consume sports drinks in situations unrelated to strenuous exercise, such as when feeling thirsty or hot, flat or lethargic, or feeling hungover.

“Sports drinks are widely available. You can find them in supermarkets, corner stores, vending machines and they are often placed at point-of-sale to encourage impulse purchases. They’re clearly marketed to a wide audience and it makes no sense to allow health claims that would only apply to a small group of athletes,” says Godfrey.

“We are calling on FSANZ to put the consumer first and not to proceed with these changes.”

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