The evidence of the role of sugary sweetened drinks, including soft drinks, cordials, energy drinks, fruit drinks, vitamin water and sports drinks, and the risk of excessive body weight in both children and adults is mounting. (1) The prevalence of overweight and obesity similarly continues to rise, with 25% of children and 60% of adults overweight or obese. (1) Of even more concern, this figure is predicted to rise to 85% of men and 75% of women by 2025. (1)
Given this link and the serious complications of obesity to personal health and wellbeing, as well as the burden it places on the healthcare and economical systems, it’s time to get serious about tackling obesity.
The link between Sugary Sweetened Drinks and Obesity
The contribution of sugary sweetened drinks to obesity is a direct result of the ‘empty’ energy these drinks provide. The added sugars of these beverages are rapidly absorbed and provide excess energy which leads to weight gain, without providing any other nutrients. (1) Further to weight gain, sugary sweetened drinks are associated with an increased risk of dental carriers and reduced bone strength, particularly in children. (1)
The scope of the problem
The cost of obesity to Australia’s health system is $37.7 – $56.6 billion and like the prevalence of obesity this figure is predicted to rise. (1) The effects of dental carriers further cost Australia $6.1 billion in 2007-8 and accounted for 6.2% of health care expenditure. (1)
According to the Victorian Child’s Health Study (2008), 40 – 65% of children (5 – 16 years) are drinking more than 250ml of soft drink a day, which provides 27.5g of sugar, over 400 kJ of energy a cup, and contributes between 4.6 – 7.6% of daily energy intake. (1, 3, 4)
Drastic Times call for drastic measures
Given the extent of this problem it seems clear that action must be taken, but where does the responsibility for taking action lay?
Is it reasonable to expect the government to take control of the situation and impose action such as an 18+ age restriction on the consumption of sugary sweetened drinks? Similar restrictions around alcohol and tobacco are widespread, although, despite what you may have heard, sugar is non-toxic and as such an 18+ restriction may be a bit extreme.
Alternatively greater regulation around these drinks could be within the jurisdiction of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, who is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of our food system. Perhaps a prudent warming and labelling system would be received more agreeably, or simply setting limits around serving sizes and packaging would be effective. Recently in New York action to limit the sizes of sugary sweeten drinks sold was overturned by a Judge and the initiative labelled arbitrary despite its potential to impact the consumption of such drinks. (5)
With governments reluctant to implement such regulations to reduce the consumption of sugary sweetened drinks should we be looking to the manufactures to change their ways or simply taking greater responsibility as consumers?
A range of zero kilojoule soft drinks on the market suggests that the soft drink industry is receptive to product reformulation and have further launched a new generation of “semi” sugary sweetened drinks which contains a combination of artificial sweeteners and sugar. (6) This style “sugar reduced” product is set to increase in the Australian market during 2013, which may somewhat reflect a lack of consumer appeal for the zero kilojoule products.
Perhaps greater consumer education around switching to these reduced sugar products or limiting consumption of sugary sweetened drinks altogether is needed.
Maybe we could negate all this political activism and simply take the initiative as parents not to give children soft drinks, cordials, energy drinks, fruit drinks, vitamin water and sports drinks.
Water should be the drink of choice for both children and adults, with age appropriate milk (reduced fat varieties are not suitable under the age of 2) the next best option. Interestingly the effects on weight have not been seen with flavoured milk products, which further to having no influence on weight gain, improve the overall nutrient status. (1, 7)
It is important as parents to role model appropriate food behaviours and teach our child not good nutrition and moderation but also to enjoy food and the experience of eating wholesome nourishing produce.