The need for healthier drinks

boy_drinking_by_jynmeyer_stock_xchng(1)This week, the British Soft Drinks Association published the 2009 UK Soft Drinks Report.  Despite the recession and the wet summer, total soft drink consumption held up, with a 1 per cent increase in market value, although volume declined by 1 per cent.  Bottled waters and smoothies were particularly hit by a decline in volume, whilst carbonated drinks, still and juice drinks increased in volume.  Consumers’ focus on health and wellbeing, and a desire for naturalness benefited the not from concentrate (NFC) fruit juice category with volumes up 10 million litres so that NFC juice now represents over 45% of the chilled juice segment. The overall retail value of fruit juice did, however, decline in 2008 (down 4% to £1900 million).  In total, £13 billion was spent on soft drinks in the UK, representing consumption of 13905 million litres.  This is an average of 4.4 litres per person per week, or the equivalent of 2 cans per person per day.

Consumption of soft drinks is continuing to rise.  Findings from the last UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that consumption of soft drinks in adults in 2000/01 was equivalent to 4-5 cans per week, compared to less than 3 cans per week in 1986/87.  The majority of soft drinks consumed were carbonated.  Statistics from the British Soft Drinks Association show that 60 per cent of the carbonated drinks consumed are low-calorie and no added sugar types.  In 2000/01 young men and women (19-24 years) consumed over three times the quantity of soft drinks as did the oldest men and women (50-64 years).

Evidence from the British Soft Drinks Association suggests that children drink an average of 4.7 litres of soft drink per week, of which only 10% are fruit juice or water. 

According to the last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK, soft drinks (mainly carbonated) were the single largest contributor to non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) intake in all age groups, providing a quarter to a third of intake on average.  

It is interesting to note that groups with the lowest mean intakes and biochemical status of almost all nutrients had the highest consumption of soft drinks. 

Although the British Soft Drinks Association denies a link between soft drink consumption and obesity, pointing instead to the value of soft drinks for encouraging adequate hydration, there can be little doubt that these rivers of sugar are doing little to enhance the health of the nation. 

Each 330 ml can of sugary drink or juice typically has 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar, and 150 or more calories.  Is it pure coincidence that the rising thirst for sugar-water has paralleled the epidemic rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes? There is now strong evidence that sugary drinks have contributed substantially to the rapid growth of “diabesity”.  Women who have one or more servings of a sugary drink per day have nearly double the diabetes risk of women who rarely have sugary drinks. 

Latest research from the Harvard School of Public Health finds disturbing evidence of a link between sugary drink consumption and heart disease. The study, published in the April edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed the health of nearly 90,000 women over two decades. It found that women who drank more than 2 servings of sugary beverage each day had a nearly 40 percent higher risk of heart disease than women who rarely drank sugary beverages. 

Water, of course, is the best beverage option. It delivers everything the body needs – pure H2O – with zero calories. But for some tastes, ordinary water is just too dull and it is unrealistic to expect people to overcome their sugar-water addiction overnight.  Instead, it will require concerted effort at a range of levels to retrain our palates.  We need to educate individual consumers about the benefits of consuming less sugary drinks, provide healthier alternatives in schools and worksites, and encourage creativity and innovation among food scientists and marketers in the beverage industry to develop products that consider health and well-being whilst maintaining profitability. 

For further information about the effects of drinks on our health, please come to a Cooking for Health Course, led by Nutrition Consultant Jane Philpott, MA (Oxon), MSc, PhD.

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