Reducing sugar content in soft drinks by 40 per cent could prevent 300,000 cases of diabetes, according to new research.
The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, shows that reducing free sugar content in sugar-sweetened drinks - including fruit juices - by 40 per cent over five years, without replacing them with any non-nutritive sweeteners, could slash new diabetes cases and save the NHS billions of pounds.
Based on the reduction programme that has seen salt content in many food products
successfully reduced by 40 per cent over five years, researchers at Queen Mary University, London, studied the effects of a similar reduction in added free sugars.
They calculated sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption levels - both with and without fruit juices - and its contribution to free sugars and energy intakes in the UK population, using figures from the 2008 to 2012 National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme and British Soft Drinks Association annual reports.
The calculations showed that a 40 per cent reduction in free sugars added to SSBs over five years would lead to an average reduction in energy intake of 38 clories per day by the end of the fifth year.
The researchers said this would lead to an average loss in bodyweight of 1.2 kilos (2.6lbs) in adults, resulting in a reduction in the number of overweight and obese people by around 500,000 and one million, respectively.
They say this would in turn prevent between 274,000 and 309,000 obesity-related type 2 diabetes cases over the next two decades.
If fruit juices were excluded from SSBs, the corresponding reduction in energy intake and bodyweight would be 31 calories per day, and 0.96 kilos (2.1lbs), respectively, which would result in 300, 000 fewer cases of overweight people and 800, 000 fewer cases of obesity, which would in turn prevent up to 250,000 diabetes cases over two decades.
The researchers said the predicted impact was greater in teenagers, young adults and people from low income families who consume more SSBs.
Professor Graham MacGregor, of Queen Mary University and Chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “Our study shows this strategy could have a profound impact on reducing energy intake from SSBs and could therefore lower the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the long term.
“The Prime Minister can no longer ignore the fact that the current nutrition policies are not working.
“Action on Sugar has developed a coherent evidence-based strategy which starts with setting of incremental sugar reduction targets for soft drinks and a further six actions to follow.
“These actions require a government-funded but independent nutrition agency, which can set mandatory targets with robust enforcement.
“In support of this the British Retail Consortium is now calling for regulated sugar, fat and salt reduction targets.
“The UK food and drink industry could lead the world in preventing obesity and type 2
Registered nutritionist Kawther Hashem, a researcher for Action on Sugar, said: “We have become a nation hooked on the sweet stuff, expecting all our food and drink to
taste incredibly sweet, and it is making us overweight and obese.
“Merely having the option of ‘diet’ or ‘no sugar’ products does not work. Food and drink companies must slowly and gradually reduce the sugar and the sweetness, as they have already done for salt, so we can all get used to far less sugar in our diet.”
Dr Tim Lobstein, Director of Policy at the World Obesity Federation, said the study brings a very positive message to policy makers, adding: “Policies can be developed that have the potential to quickly change behaviour and begin to reduce the prevalence of obesity and related diseases.
“Other measures also need to be taken, not least to restrict the inducements to consume unhealthy food -which are beamed at children through much of the media they use - as well as the implementation of a soft drinks tax, as proposed by Public Health England, the Parliamentary Health Committee, and the ambassador for healthier diets, Jamie Oliver.
“In combination, such measures could have a substantially greater effect on sugar consumption than in isolation, bringing even greater relief to the over-stretched budgets of the UK’s health services.”