Drinks marketed at children laden with sugar, study claims

Parents have been misled regarding so-called healthier alternatives to soft drinks and other beverages, with new research showing the sugar content of natural fruit juices and smoothies is unacceptably high

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 5:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 5:58am

Parents, if you’ve been giving your children natural fruit juices and smoothies as a healthier alternative to soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages, here’s bad news: these drinks are all offenders when it comes to sugar.

In a recent study, researchers in Britain assessed the sugar content of more than 200 fruit drinks marketed at children and found them to be “unacceptably high”. Almost half the products assessed contained at least a child’s entire daily recommended maximum sugar intake of 19 grams (or five teaspoons) a day per 200 millilitre serving.

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“Increasing public awareness of the detrimental effect sugar sweetened drinks have on kids’ teeth and waistlines has prompted many parents to opt for seemingly healthier fruit juice and smoothie alternatives,” says study researcher Professor Simon Capewell from the University of Liverpool.

“Unfortunately our research shows that these parents have been misled. The sugar content of the fruit drinks, including natural fruit juices and smoothies tested, is unacceptably high. And smoothies are among the worst offenders.”

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Capewell, along with colleagues at the university as well as Action on Sugar, a non-profit that is working with the food industry and government in Britain to bring about a reduction of sugar in processed foods, conducted the study that was published in March in the online journal BMJ Open.

The researchers measured the quantity of “free” sugars of a total of 203 fruit juice drinks, 100 per cent natural juices, and smoothies marketed specifically to children.

“Free” sugars refer to sugars, such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, and table sugar, which are added by the manufacturer, and naturally occurring sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. It does not include the naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruits and vegetables, which the body metabolises differently and which act to curb energy intake.

The researchers used the pack labelling information provided on the drinks, which consisted of British branded and supermarket own label products. A wide variation in the amount of free sugars – from zero to 16g per 100ml – was found between different types of drink and within the same type of product.

The average sugar content was 7g per 100 ml. Among the categories, smoothies contained the highest amount (13g per 100ml), 100 per cent fruit juice was next (10.7g per 100ml), and juice drinks contained the lowest amount (5.6g per 100 ml).

Of the products surveyed, only five products were of the recommended 150ml serving size. All other products exceeded this (up to 500ml) and are likely to be consumed in a single seating as a single portion, therefore greatly increasing the child’s sugar intake, the researchers note.

The researchers recommend parents dilute fruit juice with water or opt for unsweetened juices, and only serve these drinks during meals.

Capewell says manufacturers should stop adding unnecessary amounts of sugar, and therefore calories, to their fruit drink, juice and smoothie products. “Our kids are being harmed for the sake of industry profits,” he says.