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Consumption of sugary drinks among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and toddlers could be down to water quality, according to Australian National University (ANU) researchers.

Families living in regional and remote areas expressed concern about the safety and quality of drinking water, lead author of ANU Research School of Population Health Dr Kate Thurber said.

“This can leave families with no choice but to avoid tap water and instead buy bottled drinks, cordial or other sugary drinks.”

The study involved more than 900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged up to three years.

“The good news is we found that half of children aged zero to three years in the study had never consumed sugary drinks. The bad news is that the other 50% in the study had consumed sugary drinks, and this started as early as the first year of life,” Dr Thurber said.

Cordial (47%) was the most consumed sugary drink, followed by soft drink (19%) and sweetened tea and coffee (13%).

The researchers found babies and toddlers living in cities and regional centres were significantly less likely to consume sugary drinks than children in remote areas. This was linked to reduced access to safe drinking water and reduced accessibility and affordability of recommended beverages.