Traffic light alerts can help us cut down sugary drinks

Traffic light alerts can help us cut down sugary drinks

Using traffic light-style warning labels and making healthy alternatives more easily available can reduce the consumption of sugary drinks, a major study said today.

Measures which helped consumers become more informed about the contents of the drinks, or which restrict access to them, should be used more widely, the study recommended.  

Health experts consider “sugar-sweetened beverages”, both hot and cold, to be a key driver behind the global obesity epidemic. 

They are also linked with tooth decay, diabetes and heart disease. 

Today’s Cochrane review, by experts in Germany and University College London, gathered evidence from 58 studies in 19 countries that looked at the habits of more than a million adults, teenagers and children.

Cochrane reviews are regarded as the “gold standard” of research because they draw their conclusions from all the best available evidence. 

The report looked at measures in shops, restaurants and schools to reduce consumption.

These included traffic light or “star” ratings on packaging, limiting the availability of the drinks in schools, offering children healthier alternatives in restaurants, better placement of healthier alternatives in supermarkets and increases in price. Lead author Peter von Philipsborn, of LMU university in Munich, told the Evening Standard there was no single “magic bullet” that could reduce consumption of sugary drinks.

“These measures can complement each other,” he said. “There is no single intervention that works alone.

“Informing consumers at the point of purchase, or point of consumption, can really help them to make healthy choices.

“It’s important that this information is presented in a way that is easy to process for consumers, who are often time-pressured and busy and can’t study labels in detail.”

The review found evidence that improved availability of drinking water and diet beverages at home can help people lose weight. 

It did not consider the impact of sugar taxes on sugary drinks. This will be studied in a later report.

Sugar-sweetened beverages include non-diet soft drinks, iced tea, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punches, sweetened waters and sweetened tea and coffee.

Dr James Doidge, of UCL, who was not involved in the report, said: “While this review provides useful insights into environmental measures that could be implemented to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, one really interesting question is how these measures stack up against the taxes that are currently being implemented or considered by many governments.”

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