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Study supports calls for soft drink health warning

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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