The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland also called for a review of how sugary drinks are promoted and the effect their consumption has, particularly on children.
Donal O’Shea warned that such drinks provide no nutritional benefits but are linked with weight gain.
“With one in four Irish schoolchildren classified as overweight or obese, we have an epidemic and the Government must take action,” said Prof O’Shea, a hospital consultant.
“There is widespread agreement among health professionals, now backed by a convincing body of evidence, that sugar-sweetened drinks, including sports drinks, and their pattern of consumption, are significant factors in weight gain and obesity, especially among children,” he said.
“Despite this, sugar-sweetened drinks remain popular in Ireland, and are heavily promoted. Sports personalities and organisations are often used by industry to market their sports drinks.
“This is certainly something that I believe should be discouraged in the future.”
The college’s policy group on obesity said research indicates that the obese children of today will become the obese adults of tomorrow, costing the State more than €1bn in healthcare costs and loss of productivity due to illness.
It said public health must be prioritised over commercial gains and backed the Irish Heart Foundation, which also called on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to consider a tax hike on Oct 15.
Associate professor Catherine Hayes said studies show a price increase will encourage adults and parents to buy healthier drinks.
“There is now a consensus across a broad spectrum of health professionals that a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks is needed as an important step in addressing the challenge of obesity in Ireland,” said Dr Hayes.
“The Irish Heart Foundation, which is represented on the RCPI Policy Group, has highlighted in its pre-budget submission that the introduction of a tax on these drinks would encourage a switch in consumption to healthier alternatives such as water or low fat milk. A switch to water, which is available at little or no cost, would benefit those on low incomes by lowering expenditure, while improving health.
“A health impact assessment commissioned by the Department of Health in 2012 estimated that a 10% tax on sugar- sweetened drinks would reduce the number of obese adults in Ireland by 10,000.
“The introduction of the tax would go some way towards reducing direct and indirect costs of obesity, and would generate additional much-needed revenue for prevention.”
* RCPI is hosting a public meeting, ‘Your Health — You are what you choose’, on Oct 15 at 6pm in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Kildare St, Dublin, to allow the public hear from health experts on obesity, nutrition, exercise, and alcohol. Registration is at www.rcpi.ie.