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GLASGOW – People in the UK significantly misjudge the amount of sugar in popular drinks, researchers at the University of Glasgow have found. This is particularly so for drinks perceived as healthy. The overconsumption of sugar-sweetened drinks contributes to tooth decay and obesity, which is a major risk factor for health conditions such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
Both the availability and the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, such as full-sugar carbonated drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks, has increased considerably over the past two decades.
For the study, 2,005 UK citizens were asked to estimate the number of teaspoons of sugar in some of the UK’s most popular drinks. Whilst the respondents generally slightly overestimated the amount of sugar in carbonated drinks, they significantly underestimated the sugar levels in a milkshake, a smoothie, an energy drink and a variety of fruit juices.
Respondents were also asked to estimate their average weekly liquid consumption in detail, and the results suggested that the average person in the UK consumes 659 grams of sugar and 3,144 calories per week—which equates to 450 calories per day—through non-alcoholic liquid intake. This amount is already the equivalent of nearly a quarter of the recommended daily calories for a woman and a fifth for men.
The survey also revealed that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of the respondents did not consider their liquid sugar or calorie intake when they were last on a diet. Half of the respondents who admitted to drinking three or more sugary drinks in an average day said they never compensated by reducing the calorie intake of their food.
“What you drink can be as damaging to the body as what you eat and there is no question that consuming too many sugar-sweetened drinks can greatly contribute to abdominal obesity and therefore increase your likelihood of developing health conditions such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow.
“This analysis confirms that many people are perhaps not aware of the high calorie levels in many commonly consumed drinks. Some varieties of drinks such as pure fruit juices and smoothies, which are perceived as healthy options, are also very high in sugar. For many people struggling with their weight, reducing their intake of such drinks and replacing with water or diet drinks would be a sensible first target to help them lessen their calorie intake,” Sattar stated. He suggested that “the soft drinks industry also has a role to play here by providing drinks with less sugar or offering cheaper diet versions”.