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Study of Cork primary school children supports soft drink sugar tax

OVERWEIGHT and obese children in Cork tend to drink more sugar-sweetened soft drinks than normal weight children, a UCC study has found.

The findings were presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity held in Porto, Portugal last week.

The study looked at the soft drink consumption by more than 1,000 Cork primary schoolchildren.

The researchers, led by Dr Janas Harrington of UCC, say that taxing such drinks in combination with other public health measures could help contribute to the fight against the child obesity epidemic.

Data from 1,075 schoolchildren aged eight to 11 was obtained from the Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study (CCLaS), which was conducted in primary schools in Cork City in 2012. 

In the study, consumption of soft drinks was assessed from three-day food diaries while height and weight were also measured. 

The results showed the mean intake volumes of sugar-sweetened soft drinks (SSD) were significantly higher in children who were overweight or obese compared to normal weight children. 

The average consumption volume was 383ml per day for overweight and obese children and 315ml per day for normal weight children.

Adjusting for gender, parental education, physical activity and TV viewing, high consumers of soft drinks were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. 

Furthermore, there was a clear trend of decreasing Body Mass Index (BMI) with decreasing soft drink consumption, the researchers said.

“While no single measure will reverse current trends in obesity, given the high level of consumption of SSD and the lack of nutritional value of these products, action needs to be taken to reduce consumption, particularly in high consumer groups, including children," Dr Harrington said.

“It is unlikely that the introduction of the tax will have direct short-term impacts on obesity levels, but more likely that it will have more indirect impacts such as reduction in consumption of these beverages; increased consumption of non-sugar beverages such as water; product re-formulation by manufacturers; and changes in public attitudes and discourse. This will be a fascinating experiment in public health policy," he added.