By Sean Robinson @seanrobinsonUU
Cutting sugar in sweetened drinks by 40% could prevent 300,000 cases of diabetes and one million cases of obesity, a study has found.
A reduction in sugar-sweetened beverages – including fruit juices – over five years could lead to 500,000 fewer overweight people, one million fewer cases of obesity and 300,000 fewer cases of Type 2 diabetes.
Some fizzy drinks contain 10 teaspoons of added sugar.
Health experts are urging parents to swap from buying sugar drinks for tap water because it delivers the daily amount of fluid the body needs without adding calories or potentially damaging teeth.
The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, was led by Professor Graham MacGregor who chairs the Action for Sugar group. He said the group’s action plan needed to be backed up by a Government-funded but independent nutrition agency “which can set mandatory targets with robust enforcement”.
He added: “In support of this, the British Retail Consortium is now calling for regulated sugar, fat and salt reduction targets.
“The UK food and drink industry could lead the world in preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes.”
In the study, researchers used data to calculate the level of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption and its contribution to energy intake in the UK population.
They then estimated how the reduction would affect body weight per person, and overall results for the adult population.
These calculations showed that a 40% reduction in sugars added to SSBs over five years – provided they are not replaced by artificial sweeteners – would lead to an average reduction in energy intake of 38.4 calories per day by the end of the fifth year, in turn leading to an average 1.2kg reduction in adult body weight.
This in turn would prevent more than a million cases of disease.
Meanwhile a tax on sugary drinks has not been ruled out as part of the Government's anti-obesity strategy, Downing Street has suggested.
Prime Minister David Cameron had been opposed to the move - which health campaigners led by TV chef Jamie Oliver are demanding.
But his official spokeswoman declined repeatedly to deny a report in the Times that the idea was back on the table amid mounting evidence it could cut sugar consumption.
From January 1 2014, Mexico implemented an excise tax of one peso (3p) per litre on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Researchers in the US and Mexico examined data from more than 6,200 Mexican households across 53 large cities, and discovered a drop in people consuming sugary drinks.
They found a rise in untaxed drinks sales, mainly due to more purchases of bottled plain water.
Gavin Partington, director-general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: "The soft drinks tax in Mexico has reduced average calorie intake by just six calories a day and sales in France are back to pre-tax levels.
"By contrast, the soft drinks industry is taking practical steps to help consumers, through reformulation, smaller portion sizes and increased promotion of low and no-calorie options."