Research focus

Young people’s consumption of sugar sweetened beverages

Three papers look at the role health care practitioners can play in educating young people on the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages

Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the main source of sugar for young people and are considered a major driver of childhood obesity. The UK sugar tax, introduced in April, aims to reduce SSB consumption and obesity in the long-term. Three papers on SSBs have been reviewed.  

Implications for practice

  • Increasing public awareness that SSBs increase the risk of obesity and dental caries may help to reduce their consumption
  • Healthcare practitioners should educate parents and children about the importance of adequate water intake, encourage substitution of SSBs with water and increased water consumption throughout the day
  • As SSB consumption may be habit forming so extra support may be required to help young people reduce their intake

Young people are the biggest group with the main source of sugar consumed from 
sugar sweetened beverages. Picture: iStock

The negative impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on children’s health: an update of the literature

A narrative review approach was used to update a 2009 review on the evidence for the impact of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) consumption on children specifically for overweight/obesity, insulin resistance, dental caries and caffeine-related effects.

PubMed, CAB abstracts and PAIS International were searched to identify peer-reviewed studies, published after 2007 on the impact of SSBs on child health.  

Of the 77 papers included, 41 were on obesity, six on insulin resistance, 23 on dental caries and seven on caffeine-related effects. Most studies on obesity found significant positive associations between SSB consumption and obesity risk.

Studies investigating SSBs and tooth decay supported their association with dental caries. Fewer papers reported on the impact of SSBs on insulin resistance and caffeine-related effects, but there was emerging evidence of a positive association.

There was substantial validation that SSBs increase the risk for obesity/overweight and tooth decay in children and adolescents and developing evidence for their negative impact on insulin resistance and caffeine-related effects. This literature supports the reduction of SSB intake to improve child health.

Bleich S, Vercammen K (2018) BMC Obesity. Springer Nature. doi: 10.1186/s40608-017-0178-9

Water and beverage consumption patterns among 4 to 13-year-old children in the United Kingdom

In the UK there is a public health priority to replace calorific drinks with plain water. UK children’s consumption of plain water was compared with other beverages including SSBs.

Data were taken from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2008-2011 obtained through 4-day food records from 845 children age 4-13 years living across the UK. Food diaries recorded food and drink consumption at home and away; interviews recorded socio-demographic and lifestyle information.

Patterns of beverage intake were inspected by age, gender, income, time, location of consumption, area and season. Total water intake was compared to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) standards.

By EFSA standards most children (88.7%) had inadequate water intake; total water intake reached 74.8% of their reference value. Tap water intake increased with income, with the highest in south England. Beverages were mainly consumed at home and school: most drinks including water and SSBs were drank around dinner and lunch time. 

Total water intake for UK children aged 4-13 years failed to meet EFSA guidelines. Drinking water consumption was much lower than the US or France for this age group.

Vieux F, Maillot M, Constant F et al (2017) BMC Public Health doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4400-y

Exploring perceptions of the Mexican sugar-sweetened beverage tax among adolescents in north-west Mexico: a qualitative study  

This qualitative study investigated teenagers’ awareness of and views on the Mexican sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax and its impact on their consumption.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 29 teenagers recruited through an online survey assessing SSB intake. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, anonymised and analysed using thematic analysis through the framework approach, to identify the main themes.

The mean age was 17 years and no differences were found between males and females in age, socio-economic status or anthropometric measures, but males consumed more SSBs. Most participants were unaware of the taxation (n=24; 83%).

The majority thought it would not influence their SSB intake, which had not changed since its introduction, because the price rise was too low, consumption was driven by flavour over cost and their perceived ‘addiction’ to SSBs. If price increases were significantly higher they would consider switching consumption to other drinks.  

The findings provided insight into adolescent’s opinions on the Mexican SSB tax which could inform future interventions aimed at this group. External validity was limited by the small sample size sourced from a single location.

Ortega-Avila A, Papadaki J, Jago R (2017) Public Health Nutrition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 21, 3, 618-626.


Compiled by Susan Davies, research fellow at the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at The University of Hertfordshire

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