A new review published in the journal Obesity Facts confirms that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with obesity and being overweight.
For the analysis, a team of European researchers looked at 30 new studies published between 2013 and 2015 (none of them were industry sponsored). Their findings confirm the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity and shed light on the importance of reducing these “empty calories.”
“The evidence base linking SSBs with obesity and overweight in children and adults has grown substantially in the past three years,” said EASO President Elect Dr. Nathalie Farpour-Lambert from the University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland.
“We were able to include 30 new studies not sponsored by the industry in this review, an average of 10 per year. This compares with a previous review that included 32 studies across the period 1990-2012.”
“This new, more recent evidence suggests that SSB consumption is positively associated with obesity in children. By combining the already published evidence with this new research, we conclude something that in many ways should already be obvious: public health policies should aim to reduce the consumption of SSBs and encourage healthy alternatives such as water. Yet to date, actions to reduce SSB consumption in many countries are limited or non-existent,” she says.
A total of 244,651 study participants were included in this new systematic review. Twenty of the studies involved children and 10 involved adults. Almost all (93 percent) of the 30 included studies in children and adults revealed a positive link between SSB consumption and overweight/obesity, while only one prospective cohort study in children showed no association.
Around 33 percent of the studies were conducted in Europe, 23 percent in the US, 17 percent in Middle or South America, 10 percent in Australia, seven percent in South Africa, and the remaining 10 percent in Iran, Thailand, and Japan.
“Numerous countries across the world have high levels of SSB consumption, and even those with low intakes are observing sharp increases,” said Dr. Maira Bes-Rastrollo from the University of Navarra, Spain, and Carlos III Institute of Health, Spain.
“Therefore, the combined evidence published before and after 2013 confirming that SSBs have adverse effects on body weight gain or obesity in children and adults provides a rationale for urgent policy action.”
The authors point to the success of higher taxes on SSBs in Mexico, where sales have dropped by 12 percent, most sharply in the poorest parts of the population (by 17 percent).
“Various countries have now established and implemented approaches focusing on the reduction of SSB intake by limiting its availability, increasing market price, raising public awareness through education programs via the media or at school, introducing tax policies, and improving labelling,” said Bes-Rastrollo.
Farpour-Lambert says that future research should focus on the following questions:
- How can we effectively reduce the consumption of SSBs in different populations?
- What is the impact of interventions on body weight or obesity in children and adults?
- What are the responsibilities of the food and beverages industry, policy makers, public health institutions, communities, schools, and individuals?
- Is a sugar tax feasible and effective for solid food, and what impact will it have?
The balance between the responsibility of individuals, health advocates, and governments and society must be clarified, said Farpour-Lambert.
“It is important to mobilize multiple stakeholders and to develop operational synergies across different sectors. Professional networks and the food and beverages industry must be encouraged to promote healthy diets in accordance with international standards,” she said.