UK study says sugary drinks are responsible for most of children's sugar intake

02 June 2016

New research presented at the European Obesity Summit shows that young children are consuming well over the recommended levels of free sugars in their diet, and that the largest single source of these is sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs).

The research, funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is by Professor Peymane Adab and Kiya Hurley from the University of Birmingham and colleagues from both the University of Birmingham and University of Leeds (UK).

The World Health Organisation advises that intake of free sugars should not exceed 5% of energy intake. Free sugars are those sugars added to food, and those naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrate.

There has been increasing concern, particularly in the UK, about the intake of free sugars from SSBs and their link to weight gain and tooth decay in children.

The study, known as WAVES, aimedt to identify sources of free sugar in British children.  The researchers gathered information about dietary intake from children in 54 primary schools across the West Midlands region of the UK.

Dietary intake was assessed using the Child and Diet Evaluation Tool (CADET) which is a checklist of all foods and drinks consumed over 24 hours. The authors were then able to work out how much free sugar was in each of the foods the children were consuming.

The researchers found that mean daily intake of free sugar in a sample of 1085 children was 74.6g, representing 17.4% of energy intake.

Of the total free sugar consumed:

  • 40% was from SSBs (25% from fizzy drinks, squash and fruit drinks and 15% from fruit juice and smoothies)
  • 10% from chocolate, sweets, toffees and mints’
  • 8% from ‘cakes, buns and sponge puddings’
  • 7% from ‘yoghurt and fromage frais’.

The authors say: “Children’s free sugar intake exceeds amounts recommended in UK guidelines. These findings support public health concern over high intakes of SSBs given their possible contribution to excess weight gain.

"Evidence supports the recent introduction of the sugar tax introduced by the UK government as one method aiming to reduce purchase and consumption of high sugar products, however we must continue to find ways to support the public to reduce their intake of free sugars. Identifying differences in subgroups from the main WAVES study data, when available, will be important for targeted interventions.”