Slashing the sugar content of sweet drinks by 40 per cent over the next five years could prevent a million cases of obesity and 500,000 cases of people being overweight, a new study has found.
Experts at Queen Mary University in London claim the reduction could also prevent 300,000 cases of type 2 diabetes over the next 20 years.
The team found that a 40 per cent reduction in free sugars added to sweet drinks and fruit juices would reduce calorie intake by 38 calories per day by the end of the 5th year, leading to average weight loss of 2.6lbs.
Writing in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, Professor Graham MacGregor, who is chairman of campaign group Action on Sugar, said: “The proposed strategy could lead to a profound reduction in energy intake from sugar-sweetened beverages and could therefore lower the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes in the long term.”
He said the proposed strategy would produce “a powerful effect” when combined with a tax on sugary drinks.
It comes as separate research in the British Medical Journal revealed that a sugary drinks tax in Mexico has seen a 12 per cent reduction in sales and a 4 per cent increase in purchases of untaxed beverages such as water in its first year. Obesity campaigners welcomed the findings which could help ease the strain on over-stretched NHS budgets in the long-term.
Dr Tim Lobstein, director of policy at World Obesity Federation, said: “Policies can be developed that have the potential to quickly change behaviour and begin to reduce the prevalence of obesity and related diseases.”
However experts warned that focusing on cutting sugar or introducing a sugar tax was not enough to curb rising obesity levels
Professor Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, said: “Having taxation on sugary drinks does appear to have an impact but it does not seem to be the colossal impact that is being suggested.
“These are interesting findings but it is too simplistic and based on assumptions that the calories lost would not be picked up elsewhere.”
Prof Sattar called for better labelling on food and drink products.
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said there was “no evidence that a tax on soft drinks would have an impact on obesity”.