Study finds sugary drinks not necessarily linked to childhood obesity

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Study finds sugary drinks not necessarily linked to childhood obesity


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A recent study has suggested that there is no clear link between a child's consumption of sugary beverages and their BMI. (Photograph: Ann in the uk/Shutterstock)

Fri. 3 May 2019


NOTTINGHAM, UK: Given what we know about the relationship between rates of obesity and sugar consumption, it would seem to be common sense that children who consume more sugary drinks have a higher body mass index (BMI). It comes as somewhat of a surprise, then, that a new nationally representative survey of UK children has found no significant difference between the BMI of children who consume sugar-sweetened drinks and those who do not.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham led the study and analysed data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme, which featured 1,298 UK children aged 4–10 years old and was conducted between 2008 and 2016. This survey gathers information annually from food diaries in which children or their parents record their dietary intake over a four-day period, and collects the height and weight measurements of the children to calculate their BMI.

Though 61 per cent of the children were subsequently classified as consumers of sugary drinks, 78 per cent of this group did not exceed their total recommended daily calorie intake. Interestingly, although 78 per cent of all of the children overall consumed more than the recommended daily amount of added sugars, this figure was only 68 per cent for those who consumed sugary drinks.

“In this representative sample of UK children, high intake of added sugars was not directly correlated with high energy consumption. Therefore, relying on a single-nutrient approach to tackling childhood obesity in the form of a soft drink tax might not be the most effective tactic,” said Ola Anabtawi of the University of Nottingham, who led the research, in a press release regarding the study.

She added: “Our findings indicate that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is not a behaviour particular to children with a higher body weight. On the contrary, framing sugar reduction in tackling obesity might reinforce negative stereotypes around ‘unhealthy dieting’.”

“Instead, policies should focus on those children whose consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks substantially increases their total added sugar intake in combination with other public health interventions,” she concluded.

The University of Exeter’s Dr Katarina Kos cautioned that the study’s findings should not be interpreted by parents as permission to give their children high-sugar drinks. “The study should not be seen as reassurance that we can relax about sugar-sweetened drinks, but as the authors also say, it highlights the complexity of the environment,” she told the Independent.

The findings of the study were presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity, held in Glasgow in Scotland from 28 April to 1 May.

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