One of Ireland’s leading experts on obesity said he is ‘gobsmacked’ by the results of a ban on sugar-laden fizzy drinks for under-age players introduced five years ago by a soccer club in Sligo.
The ban has been a runaway success, according to officials at Strand Celtic Soccer Club.
Professor Donal O’Shea encouraged the water-only policy and returned to the club at the weekend to mark the fifth anniversary of the ban on energy drinks.
“There was an inter- county girls’ under-12s competition on and you could clearly see that players from other clubs drinking their Powerades and Lucozade Sport were visibly heavier than the Strand Celtic Players.
“I was gobsmacked and massively impressed by what the club has achieved,” he said.
Prof O’Shea, brother of former Irish rugby international Conor O’Shea, and founder of the country’s first public weight management clinic at St Columcille’s Hospital in Dublin, said that what the club introduced led to a change in culture.
“Many parents are now choosing this soccer club because of the ban and when they noticed that even at club barbecues the kids were choosing to drink water over sugary drinks.”
He encouraged all other sports clubs to introduce a similar ban.
“It is established in the medical literature that if you can limit consumption of sugary drinks by kids they will be a healthier weight and carry that into adulthood. I think all clubs involved with underage teams should immediately follow.” Professor O’Shea, who campaigned for the introduction of a sugar tax in Ireland, added that while all exercise is beneficial for youngsters, it would take two hours of activity to nullify the effects of a bottle of energy drink.
“The sugar tax is important — but will take time to be introduced and have an effect. Strand Celtic acted five years ago and the effect was immediate and is spreading. I would like all sports and youth clubs across all codes to follow this lead for their underage teams. Then we could begin to see the tide turning on our obesity epidemic — simple but true.
“This initiative is a fantastic example of how community action can take the lead in combating our childhood overweight and obesity problem. A simple, sensible measure and you can beat all the efforts of industry and advertising to improve our children’s future health,” he said.
The club decided to bring in the ban when they noticed new young members, some as young as four years, arriving with energy drinks.
Club chairman Brian McDermott said the ban has helped to create a healthier attitude overall. “We had a large number of small children playing soccer. We noticed that, as some of these children arrived with their first pair of football boots, they were also carrying up to 500ml of a sugar-enhanced sports energy drink and that they clearly associated the drink with the sport as seen regularly on TV and also held, and sometimes endorsed, by their heroes.”
His colleague, Damien McCallion, agreed. “Some of these drinks contain 400 calories which, before the ban, meant that the children were actually putting on weight during their exercise.”
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