Soft drink shake-up called for amidst obesity fears

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: American beverage association, Nutrition

American consumers may require re-education about beverage intake to wean them off sugary drinks, with some health researchers calling on the industry to develop a new class of reduced calorie soft drinks.

Citing clinical research linking higher sugar soft drinks to being a potential contributor to type-2 diabetes, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) is calling for a new era of beverage formulation using about less sugars to beverages currently on the market.

Responding to the calls, the American Beverage Association played up findings of its own that it says shows consumers of different age groups are already turning to lower calorie beverages compared to previous years.

The new class

Nonetheless, amidst growing concerns about an obesity epidemic in the US and potential connotations in relations to the onset of diseases like diabetes, the HSPH claims that a new class of soft drink may help shift consumer tastes.

The university called for formulation of beverages that use less than 1 gram of sugar per ounce, while not using non-caloric sweeteners, in order to help consumers to adapt to less sweet beverage products.

"Healthier beverage options would allow individuals to make better choices,"​ stated Walter Willett, professor and chair of the HSPH’s Department of Nutrition.

To further support its launch claims, the university researchers also called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require drink makers to provide calorie information on packs related to an entire bottle and not a single serving of drink.

“The aim is to re-educate the American palate to a lower expectation of sweetness, as well as to give consumers clear information to help them make healthier choices,” ​stated the HSPH.

While the researchers retained that water remained the best option for consumers seeking simple refreshment, they accepted that people needed time and support in kicking their higher sugar drink needs.

Pointing to its own research, published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the ​HSPH said it found woman who drank more than two servings of high sugar beverages a day were at about 40 per cent higher risk of heart disease than subjects who drank less.

The research was carried out on 90,000 women over two decades, the researchers said.

Drink maker actions

Dr Maureen Storey, senior vice president for science policy at the American Beverage Association, countered the Harvard claims by pointing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

In analysis of the data, which is being submitted by the group for peer review ahead of possible publication, Storey claimed that consumption of ‘full-calorie’ soft drinks, milk and 100 per cent juice had all fallen compared to her earlier analysis published back in 2006.

The former research was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, according to the trade group. Storey suggested this decline reflected an industry wide push, which is already ongoing, to provide reduced calorie products.

"The data shows that the American public is taking advantage of the many beverage innovations being developed by the beverage industry, including the introduction of of new no- and low-calorie beverages,"​ she stated. "This is good news because consumers are beginning to take advantage of lower-calorie beverage options that can help in balancing energy from calories consumed with energy from calories burned through exercise."

Related topics: R&D, Sweeteners (intense, bulk, polyols)

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