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What's wrong with sugary drinks?

Sugary drink consumption is linked to weight gain and a host of obesity-related diseases including type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, some cancers.

Sugary drinks contain ‘empty calories’ – a 330ml of sugary drink typically provides 35g, or 9 lumps of sugar, but no other nutritional value.  Because liquid calories do not make us feel full, we do not compensate by eating fewer calories from solid food. 

In addition, eating and drinking sugary products is the biggest cause of dental caries in the UK.  There is considerable evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverage consumption to dental caries, which can cause immense pain and suffering and cost millions to treat.  Tooth decay affects almost one-third of five-year olds in England and can lead to “a lifetime of poor dental health and dental phobia”.

Sources: p11. PHE sugar reduction report.[1] Dr Nigel Carter, British Dental Health Foundation.

How do you define a sugary drink?

We use the definition first used by the UK Health Forum: "any non-alcoholic beverage with added sugar which is consumed cold". Whilst some anomalies may avoid the duty, the task of the sugary drinks duty is not to ‘catch’ as many sugary drinks as possible, but to improve children’s health. The best way of doing this is to make sure that the most widely consumed sugary drinks are included in the duty, particularly: carbonated drinks, juice drinks, so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks, and dilutables.

Isn’t there as much sugar in fruit juice?

In the UK, around 92 litres per person of sugary drinks were consumed in 2011, almost five times more sugary drinks than fruit juice and smoothies combined.  Most studies show no association between 100% fruit juice consumption and overweight/obesity – unlike for sugary drinks.

What about drinks with artificial sweeteners?

As well as perpetuating a desire for sweet-tasting food and drinks, many remain concerned about the safety of some artificial sweeteners.  Although our proposal for a sugary drinks duty does not currently include drinks containing artificial sweeteners, duties can be extended to drinks containing them as and when sufficient evidence is available.  

How much sugar is in a typical sugary drink?

It is easy to see why children consume copious amounts of sugar. Just 1 litre of Sainsbury’s own lemonade contains 28.8 lumps of sugar and 1.5 litres of Coca-Cola contains 39.8 lumps of sugar. Their consumption has risen sharply, between 1975 and 2007 beverage purchases of sugary drinks by British households more than doubled from 512ml to 1142ml.[1]

How big a source of sugar in children's diets are these drinks?

Soft drinks, are the largest single source of sugar for teenagers and children aged 4-10 years[2]. According to National Diet and Nutrition Survey data (2008-2012) soft drinks contribute to 30% of sugar intake for teenagers, 17% for children aged 4-10 years and 12% for children 1.5-3 years.[3] In part due to the high consumption of sugary drinks “teenagers consume 50% more sugar on average than is currently recommended.”[4]

 


 

[1] UK soda consumption spreadsheet – see research-external folder

[2] National Heart Forum, A report on a National Heart Forum Meeting held on 29 June 2012.

[3] See p8. PHE sugar reduction report.

[4] See p6. PHE sugar reduction report.


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