Nearly half of the drinks in the U.K. survey contained day’s worth of sugar in one serving
Fruit drinks, including fruit juice and smoothies, marketed to children in the U.K. have extremely high amounts of sugar, according to a new study.
Among 203 products that researchers looked at, nearly half contained the entire daily recommended maximum intake of 19 g — or about five teaspoons — by themselves. Smoothies were especially sweet, with an average 13 g of sugar per 100 ml.
Sugar content varied from 0 to 16 g per 100 ml (with a standard portion size of 200 ml), and contained an average of 7 g, according to the study, published in BMJ Open on Wednesday bySimon Capewell, DSc, MD, at the University of Liverpool in England, and colleagues.
“In order to help combat the growing problem of childhood obesity, manufacturers need to stop adding unnecessary sugars and calories to their [fruit juices, juice drinks, and smoothies] now,” wrote Capewell and colleagues. “Otherwise, it will be essential for the government to introduce legislation to regulate the free sugars content of these products.”
The U.K. recently proposed a tax on soda makers there, but it is not scheduled to be implemented for 2 years and is expected to face lobbying and opposition from industry in the meantime.
The authors considered single-serve products, all marketed to children, from seven major supermarkets in Great Britain. They looked only at free sugars, defined as sugars, syrups, and fruit juice concentrates added to the drinks by the manufacturer, as opposed to sugars naturally in fruit. Sugar content was calculated from information on the product label.
Cordials — fruit-flavored and usually sweetened concentrates that the user mixes with water — are marketed to kids in the U.K. but were excluded from the analysis because, since the amount of dilution can vary markedly, so would the sugar content of an individual serving.
Fifty-seven of the products were sweetened by sugar, 65 by noncaloric sweeteners, and five products contained both; seven products contained glucose-fructose syrup. The authors wrote that labelling can be confusing for parents: in many cases the reference intake provided is for adults, even though children are drinking it. And there can be confusion over names, where “juice drinks” aren’t pure fruit juices but have added ingredients.
Capewell and colleagues recommended that parents give their children whole fruit instead of juice, or dilute juice with water. And kids should drink no more than 150 ml of juice a day, they added.
Limitations of the study include a lack of generalizability: only drinks at supermarket chains were analyzed, new drinks appear regularly, and the authors focused only on sugar content and not on portion size of the beverages.
In addition, for drinks with milk added, it wasn’t clear from some labels whether lactose was included as sugar content. As well, the researchers assumed that the information on the label that drink makers added was accurate. “Future studies should include free sugars determined through laboratory analysis to achieve a better understanding of the true free sugars content,” Capewell and colleagues wrote.