Health & Nutrition with Rosie Shelley
A SUGAR-sweetened drink tax was introduced last year, which basically meant that the cost of a normal can of fizzy drink went up by 10 cents.
It’s well established that consumption of sugary drinks is amongst the leading causes of weight gain, obesity and diabetes, as well as tooth damage. It’s also true that, as the latest research shows, Irish men are now the most overweight in the Europe, Irish women the third, one in three Irish children is overweight or obese, and that there has been a nine-fold rise in rates of obesity in Irish children since 1975.
The implications for future generations, their health and wellbeing, not to mention the cost to the health service/tax payer, are hard to ignore.
Like many people, I would have much preferred it if the tax were to be ringfenced for health initiatives or research/treatment programmes, and I’m not sure that ten cents has really changed anyone’s buying choices.
There may have been a kind of knock-on effect which makes drinking these fizzy drinks less acceptable, but there is also strong evidence—based on countries like France, Mexico, Chile and Hungary—that those effects don’t last.
Consumption goes down for a while and then returns to normal. Denmark actually repealed the tax in 2013.
One study showed that nearly all of us are unsure of our recommended maximum daily intake of sugar --for adults six teaspoons, and that includes sweetness from all sources including the unexpected like soups and sauces, condiments, savoury snacks, breakfast cereals and even some breads, much less for children (depending on their age). One can of cola contains 14 teaspoons, and some energy drinks up to 14.
Replacing sugars with sweeteners
Another major worry is that to avoid the tax, producers are simply replacing sugars with sweeteners. And there’s a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that artificial sweeteners have at least as much of an effect on obesity and diabetes as sugar does, most likely because they disturb the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and create a craving for sweetness.
In February US researchers linked artificially sweetened drinks with a four times greater risk of stroke in African American women, and a 1.24 greater risk of premature death from all causes in all postmenopausal women.
The authors noted ‘it is prudent to try to wean oneself off these drinks’ while more research is being urgently conducted.
A sperate study established that regularly drinking artificially sweetened drinks doubled the risk of becoming overweight or obese, and there are concerns too about effects on fertility and the health of our offspring.
The foetuses of mice given sweeteners showed malformations in the mammary glands, and baby mice given them suffered growth problems.
While artificial sweeteners have as I say been linked to a whole host of health problems, gut bacteria disturbance, inflammation, poor immune function and hormonal balance, increased fat storage, and insulin resistance (after only four days in volunteers who normally took none); for every glass of diet drink the rate of diabetes rose by 18%, though the risk was even higher in this study for sugary drinks at 21%; those drinking artificially sweetened drinks had a 47% higher increase in their BMI than those drinking no soft drinks; ‘sugar-free’ drinks had the same effect on tooth enamel as sugary drinks (it’s the citric acid); diet colas ‘are as addictive as the other kind’; while adults who consume diet drinks daily had three times the risk of stroke or dementia.
Fruit juice dangers
It’s all about balance and moderation, of course, and there’s no need to deny yourself or your children the occasional treat, but when it becomes habitual there is, the experts say, a ‘serious risk of lasting harm.’
And in shocking evidence out this month, US scientists found that fruit juice—once thought of as a healthy drink—is potentially even more damaging to health than fizzy drinks.
Tracking 13,440 people over six years, they found that the heaviest consumers of fruit juice had a 14% higher risk of premature death, and each extra glass raised it by 24%; it’s concentrated sugar after all. I’d stick to the water, teas and coffees.