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Study supports calls for soft drink health warning

Soft drink health warnings should include advice on the risk of tooth decay, say researchers from the University of Adelaide…

Fluoridated water is the best drink option for children, but a new study has found many are consuming sugary drinks instead. Wouter van Doorn

Soft drink health warnings should include advice on the risk of tooth decay, say researchers from the University of Adelaide, after another large study connected sugary drink consumption and tooth decay.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health this month, researchers from the Australian Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide looked at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated water by more than 16,800 Australian children.

They found children who consumed three or more sweet drinks per day had 46% more decayed, missing and filled baby teeth.

More than half of children aged 5-16 years were found to have consumed at least one sugared drink per day, and 13% consumed three or more.

Boys consume more sweet drinks than girls, according to the study.

“There is growing scrutiny on sweet drinks, especially soft drinks, because of a range of detrimental health effects on adults and children,” said Dr Jason Armfield from the University of Adelaide’s School of Dentistry.

“If health authorities decide that warnings are needed for sweet drinks, the risk to dental health should be included. This action, in addition to increasing the access to fluoridated eater, would benefit children’s teeth greatly,” Dr Armfield said.

The study found children from the lowest income families consumed almost 60% more sugared drinks, an issue that only compounded the problem said Professor Mike Morgan, program leader of the Oral Health CRC at University of Melbourne.

“Unfortunately those with high risk to dental disease – including those who consume cheap decay causing diets – tend also to be those less able to access appropriate oral health care.”

Professor Morgan said he supported the call for warnings on such food and beverages, adding that legislative means for societal harm reduction were an important component of effective public health approaches.

“This is particularly evident with the introduction of plain packing of cigarettes,” Professor Morgan said.

“Dental disease is expensive to treat in Australia and causes considerable pain and suffering. The more we can do to reduce both the impact of the diseases and the inequities in health the better.”

The call for health warnings comes as a group of health organisations in the UK are calling for a tax on sweetened drinks of up to 20 pence per litre.

More than 60 organisations, including the National Heart Forum and the Royal Society for Public Health, support the tax, and are calling for the money raised from it to be spent on programmes to improve childrens' health and wellbeing.

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9 Comments sorted by

  1. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    The article provides evidence that soft drinks contribute to tooth decay.

    However it provides no evidence that warnings work. It's just assumed.

    Don't we already know sugar is bad for your teeth? I doubt the fact that 'lowest income families' buy more soft drinks is due to ignorance. Or do we think people on low incomes are clueless?

    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to James Jenkin

      I think if you replace the word sugar with ciggerette it will become clearer

      "Don't we already know ciggerettes are bad for you? I doubt the fact that 'lowest income families' buy more ciggerettes is due to ignorance. Or do we think people on low incomes are clueless?"

      Warning labels are alright on ciggy's, why not on soft drink?

      Lower income households are usually less educated, have less time together as a family, usually have both parents working, usually less supervision of children, less time and energy to cook a meal, etcetera

      Yes people on lower incomes are on par, more clueless than the general public who are clueless enough already. For instance, most people probably have no idea how much sugar they consume each day from cereals, to coffee, to biscuits, breads, spreads, soft drink, etc

      Hey, it cant hurt right

    2. John Zigar

      Engineer, researcher

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Good points James. We all knew decades ago that any sugar iny any food is bad for your teeth. If Australia raised a soft drink tax, where would this money go to - for free dental treatments and research? Probably not. It would be used for whatever the government of the day fancies. With all the health debates raging, it appears the next decades will see government or health institutions controlling the food industry and what and how consumers consume.

    3. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      It's a good point Michael - if cigarettes, why not soft drinks?

      Possibly because any amount of tobacco is unequivocally deadly and addictive. Even libertarians suggest there's a case for banning smoking as an inherently dangerous activity. like walking on train tracks. Other things - like fast food and soft drink - won't necessarily harm us. Everyone knows know too much junk is bad for you, so it's up to us to control our consumption.

      'Lower income households are usually less educated, have less time together as a family, usually have both parents working, usually less supervision of children, less time and energy to cook a meal, etcetera'

      This sounds awfully like the poor need the guidance and assistance of nice ediucated middle-class people! I wonder if this might have unintended consequences - feeling you're being lectured by affluent people to copy their lifestyle might well get people's backs up.

  2. Pritam Sekhon

    Retired teacher

    Totally agree re. tooth decay. Also needs warning on "diet" soft drinks containing aspatarme. Why is there no discernible commentary around Australian health sites on this?

  3. Rosemary Stanton

    Nutritionist & Visiting Fellow at UNSW Australia

    Soft drinks also damage teeth due to their acidity. This applies whether they contain sugar or artificial sweeteners.

    With dental decay the second most costly disease (after cardiovascular disease), I often wonder why we forget that the mouth needs care and attention just like the health of the rest of the body.

    In general, the same diet that helps protects us against heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes will also be good for the teeth, although the frequency of consumption may differ. Snacking is problematic for teeth.

    Elite tennis players give a good example of the need to rinse the mouth with water, always taking a good swig of water to remove the acidity of the sports drinks they consume.

  4. John R. Sabine


    As usual in this and all similar food-control articles, debates and discussions the various protagonists close their eyes and ears to that simplest of life's laws, the Universal Law of Nutrition, namely "a little will do you good, a lot will kill you." I know of no food, nor drug for that matter, to which this law does not apply.

    It is not a matter of what we eat, but how much.

  5. Casey Schapel

    Social Worker

    This is definitely a huge issue. Similar again to food options, when you look at the prices of water versus soft drinks (600 ml), you will often find soft drinks to be cheaper. And let's not ignore the fact that most consumed/available prepackaged water bottles is provided BY soft drink companies.

    I don't think that the tax will work. If we are seriously suggesting that lower income people are more likely to consume it then again (like with cigarettes) they will pay more money for a product.

    Warnings? Absolutely as long as it is in conjunction with mass public health campaigns, even more education. But like cigarettes, food etc etc., noone likes to be told/punished for doing something that they enjoy.

    While on the subject of comparing soft drinks to cigarettes, it would be interesting to see more focus as well on the addictive attachment to caffiene in soft drinks.