British people are the second highest consumers of sugary drinks in western Europe, a study has found.
People in the UK have almost four-and-a-half sugary drinks a week on average, including fizzy cola, lemonade, energy drinks and fruit-flavoured drinks, based on the latest available data for 2018.
That makes us the second worst in the west of Europe, after Belgium, despite the evidence that too many sugary drinks lead to tooth decay and obesity, and are linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
A study comparing 185 countries looked at people’s average number of sugary drinks – one drink was eight fluid ounces, which is a bit less than half a pint in the UK.
Between 2005 and 2018, despite growing awareness of the harms of sugar, people in the UK increased their sugary drink consumption by about a tenth of a drink.
People in the UK have almost four-and-a-half sugary drinks a week on average, including fizzy cola, lemonade, energy drinks and fruit-flavoured drinks, based on the latest available data for 2018 (shown in graphic). Our total was also far higher than the 2.8 drinks recorded in France, 2.7 in Germany and 3.1 drinks a week in Australia
The UK fell into the worst five of these for sugary drink consumption also, with our average 4.4 drinks a week almost three times the 1.5 drinks recorded in Italy, and double the 2.2 weekly drinks consumed on average in Sweden. Our total was also far higher than the 2.8 drinks recorded in France, 2.7 in Germany and 3.1 drinks a week in Australia
And this rise was higher in people aged 20 to 39, who are the biggest customers for unhealthy beverages, consuming almost seven sugary drinks a week.
The researchers, who found the highest sugary drink consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, listed 24 high-income countries in their analysis.
The UK fell into the worst five of these for sugary drink consumption also, with our average 4.4 drinks a week almost three times the 1.5 drinks recorded in Italy, and double the 2.2 weekly drinks consumed on average in Sweden.
Our total was also far higher than the 2.8 drinks recorded in France, 2.7 in Germany and 3.1 drinks a week in Australia.
British people came only just behind the Americans, who guzzle an average of 4.9 sugary drinks a week, with Belgians having 5.2 drinks, while people in Malta were worst among the high-income countries, consuming an average of 6.2 drinks a week.
Professor Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author of the study, from Tufts University in the US, said: ‘Sugar-sweetened drink intake has increased since 2005, particularly among people under 40 in the UK, despite public health efforts to decrease their appeal.
‘This is worrying, but it makes sense as advertising is heavily pitched at younger people.
‘These drinks are made to seem fun and cool, and advertised by inspirational sports stars and popular singers.
‘Also young people often feel they are invincible, so may be less likely to think about the health effects of fizzy drinks.’
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found a 16 per cent rise in global consumption of sugary drinks between 1990 and 2018.
In the UK, as seen around the world, men tended to drink a larger amount than women.
The findings are based on large national surveys asking people over the age of 20 about their diet.
In the UK, people were asked to recall what food and drink they had consumed in the previous 24 hours, and indicated how many servings of different food and drink types they typically had in a separate questionnaire.
Survey results up to 2018 were not available for this country, but were estimated based on previous years and similar countries.
The highest number of sugary drink servings were recorded in Rwanda, where the weekly average was 34 drinks, and in the west African nation of Togo, where the average was 29 in 2018.
But in India, China, and Bangladesh, the weekly average was only a fifth of a drink.
Overall, some of the highest sugary drink intakes in the world were among urban, highly educated adults in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The study did not include sugar-sweetened tea and coffee, as, unlike the sugary drinks examined, this typically falls below 50 calories a cup.
It has been five years since the UK introduced a sugar tax, which required manufacturers of drinks with too much added sugar to pay a levy.
Commenting on the study, Hattie Burt, from World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health, said: ‘This new research drives home the importance of policies designed to improve the nutritional quality of food and drink.’
She said the sugar tax had worked well to encourage manufacturers to remove sugar from soft drinks, but added: ‘More robust measures like this are needed from government to improve our food environment, including restrictions on the marketing and promotion of foods deemed high in fat, salt and sugar.’
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide