25 Jul 2023 — Teenagers’ overconsumption of soft drinks has been directly associated with the prevalence of overweight and obesity in a global study. Soft drink consumption contributes to at least 12% of the variations in overweight and obesity rates among adolescents across different countries.
In light of the study, conducted by the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London, Action on Sugar, another university division, cautions that there is a dire need to implement effective strategies such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to reduce the consumption of soft drinks.
“Adolescent obesity can have long-term social and economic consequences, including increased healthcare costs and reduced productivity, impacting individuals, families, and societies at large,” Dr. Kawther Hashem, campaign lead for Action on Sugar, tells Nutrition Insight.
The positive correlation between the prevalence of daily soft drink consumption and the predominance of overweight and obesity was statistically deduced.
“The teenage demographic is particularly telling in this study because it represents a critical period in human development when lifestyle habits are formed,” Hashem continues.
“Adolescence is a time when dietary preferences and behaviors are established, and these habits often carry into adulthood. As such, addressing soft drink consumption and obesity during this stage can have a long-lasting impact on individuals’ health and well-being.”
The study, published in the JAMA Network Open, which analyzed data from three cross-sectional studies involving 107 countries and 405,528 adolescents, revealed that the prevalence of overweight and obesity varied among countries, ranging from 3.3% to 64%. In contrast, the bulk of daily soft drink consumption ranged from 3.3% to approximately 80%.
The study’s large sample size increases the confidence in the results and enhances the generalizability of the findings. The extensive analysis, covering such a large number of countries, highlights that this issue is widespread and not confined to a specific region, making it a global public health concern.
“Taking action immediately is crucial to combat adolescent overweight and obesity due to several reasons,” explains Hashem.
“Intervening during adolescence can influence lifestyle habits and establish healthier dietary choices, leading to improved long-term health outcomes. Reducing obesity rates among adolescents can alleviate the strain on healthcare systems and improve the overall well-being of communities.”
The researchers view the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy as a benchmark reformulation that removed 46,000 metric tons of sugar from soft drinks between 2015 and 2020. The levy also raised £334 million (US$429 million) in 2021-2022.
According to the group, industry can play a pivotal role in addressing the issue of soft drink consumption and obesity among adolescents through reformulation efforts, product diversification, responsible marketing and policy change.
“Industry players should prioritize reducing the sugar content in soft drinks through reformulation efforts. This step can be achievable by investing in research and development to find suitable sugar substitutes or alternative formulations that help reduce sugar levels,” says Hashem.
“Offering a wider range of healthier drinks can provide consumers, especially adolescents, with more nutritious alternatives to sugary soft drinks.”
Promote healthier options
The organization also suggests that healthier drink choices should be promoted more and excessive soft drink consumption should be discouraged.
“Supporting and complying with government regulations and initiatives, such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, can demonstrate a commitment to health and public health. This levy, as shown in the UK, can be effective in reducing sugar content and support children’s health,” Hashem continues.
“All of which was invested in children’s health and well-being programs. The same could be achieved by mandatory targets or creating a levy to reduce excess calories. Still, we need a firm commitment from the government first,” says Hashem.
These findings contribute to the understanding of the relationship between soft drink consumption and overweight and obesity, highlighting the need for action to reduce soft drink consumption and combat adolescent overweight and obesity.
“When tackling childhood obesity, our current government has wasted time and cost lives – with only one action, the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, being successful. This simple and practical approach could easily be implemented by the entire food and drink industry and would benefit the worst off in our society and save the NHS billions of pounds each year,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, co-author of the study and chair of Action on Sugar.
Salt reduction lingers on
Earlier this year, Action on Salt called for salt reduction in bread following an analysis showing that five popular sliced bread products have more salt than two small portions of McDonald’s French fries. Three in four analyzed breads contain as much salt or more per slice than a typical 25 g packet of ready-salted chips.
According to the organization, the world is off-track on reaching its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30% come 2025, which may jeopardize millions of lives. This is according to the World Health Organization’s new global report on sodium intake reduction.
“Reducing soft drink consumption is crucial for combating adolescent overweight and obesity. Our study, encompassing data from 107 countries and regions, reveals a significant positive association between daily soft drink consumption and the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adolescents,” says Dr. Huan Hu, lead author of the study and researcher at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
“To address this pressing issue, urgent actions should be employed to curb the consumption of sugary drinks.”
By Inga de Jong
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.
To contact our editorial team please email us at
If you found this article valuable, you may wish to receive our newsletters.
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.