Cork study links childhood obesity and sugary drinks

Research finds an extra soft drink can a day can increase a child’s body weight by 1kg

A selection of sugary drinks. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

A selection of sugary drinks. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire


Young children who consume sugar-sweetened drinks are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese, a study of more than 1,000 schoolchildren in Co Cork has found.

More than 80 per cent of eight-to-10-year-olds in Cork city and county consume sugary drinks, according to the Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study.

This rises to 91 per cent among children of parents with low levels of education.

Researchers found an increase in consumption of one additional can of soft drink per day was associated with an average increase in a child’s body weight of 1kg.

It says the impact of sugary drink consumption on weight is much larger than any improvements achieved by intervening at a family or school level to weigh children or getting them to exercise more.

Sugar tax

Researchers at the Health Research Board Centre for Health and Diet Research say the study shows the need for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he has written to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan proposing a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

However, Mr Varadkar said on Wednesday a sugar tax was “down the list” in terms of intervention and that changing portion sizes, reformulating foods and weight-loss surgery were more effective measures.

Mr Noonan has rejected previous proposals for a sugar tax.

Prof Ivan Perry, head of the department of epidemiology in UCC, said there was a “strong and compelling case” for introducing such a tax.

While no single measure could reverse current trends in obesity, a 20 per cent tax could have a measurable effect on the scale of the epidemic.

The Cork study shows obese children consume 30 per cent more sugary drinks than normal-weight children.

“We are allowing our children to develop lifetime addictions to sugar-sweetened drinks, the consequences of which will have a significant health impact on their generation if left unchecked,” said lead investigator Dr Janas Harrington, of UCC.