Sugar-rich drinks link to body weight

For every can of sugar-sweetened drink (SSDs) a child consumes per day, the increase in body weight is in the order of 1kg compared to children who abstain, research has found.

The Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study found that consumers of SSDs were “significantly more likely” to be overweight or obese compared to non-consumers. It also found that an increase in consumption of one additional soft drink can per day (330ml) is associated with an average increase in body weight of 1kg (2.2lb).

The findings have prompted the researchers to call for a 20% sugar tax on SSDs.

Dr Janas Harrington, lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College Cork and co-principal investigator on the Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study, said their findings were “worrying” against a backdrop of 82% of children in the study being consumers of SSDs, with consumption considerably higher among obese children. Drinking SSDs regularly could lead to lifetime addiction, they found.

“Our research has shown that obese children consume on average 30% more of these drinks than that consumed by normal weight children. We are allowing our children to develop lifetime addictions to SSDs, the consequences of which will have a significant health impact on their generation if left un-checked,” Dr Harrington said.

Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCC, Prof Ivan Perry, said in light of the high level of consumption of SSDs as documented in their study, and their lack of nutritional value, “there is now a strong and compelling case for the introduction of a tax on SSDs”.

“While no single measure will reverse current trends in overweight and obesity in children and adults, the proposed 20% tax on SSDs will have a measurable effect on the scale of the epidemic. It will provide a powerful symbol of Government leadership on this vital public health issue,” he said.

Prof Perry, principal investigator at the HRB Centre for Health and Diet Research where the study was conducted, said it would “also support the general public and especially parents in their efforts to make healthier food choices”.

For the study, which involved about 900 children aged 8-10 in Cork City and county, SSDs include sports drinks, fizzy drinks, and energy drinks, as well as fruit juices made from concentrate.

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