September 25, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

New study maps the sugar levels in children's drinks in the UK, claims they are "unacceptable", and highlights problem with 100% pure fruit juice.

strawberry sugar on spoon

A recently published study in the BMJ shows the hidden sugar levels in drinks marketed to children in the UK. The conclusion of the paper states that these levels are “unacceptably high.” It was found that among the 203 juices and smoothies advertised specifically for children, the mean sugars content was 7 g/100 ml, with smoothies averaging a considerable 13 g/100 ml.

Alarmingly, 85 of the examined 203 products contained a whopping 19 grams of sugars per 100 millilitres. The paper states that this constitutes 5% of a child’s recommended calorie intake, meaning it is “a child’s entire maximum daily amount of sugars.” However, that figure still exceeds most children’s daily recommended intake of 2-3% of their diet, which is the necessary limit to avoid all detrimental health effects of sugar, including dental caries.

fruit smoothiesAlthough the high-sugar smoothies and other drinks’ added sugar content may be relatively easy
for parents to spot, one of the more hidden issues with children’s fruit juices lie in the “100% fruit juice” beverages. As the BMJ paper argues, although a drink may be made only with fruits and their natural sugars, the key difference between the juice and the fruit itself lies in its fibre content. The high fibre content of fruits, which slows down eating and makes you feel full, is largely lost in juices and smoothies.

In fact, fruit juice and whole fruits affect the body’s metabolism quite differently. As the authors of the paper argue, eating a fruit causes the body to “adjust its subsequent energy intake appropriately, whereas after fruit juice consumption, the body does not compensate for the energy intake.”

The paper excluded fizzy drinks and many other beverages from the study as they were not exclusively marketed to children. However, Coca-Cola contains 10.6 g/100 ml, which is nearly half of the 19 g/100 ml drinks examined in the study. This comparison has recently become a focus in media, as the UK government’s plans to exempt fruit juices and smoothies from the proposed sugar tax is provoking some heated reactions.

Read the full research paper

Zoë Öhman is studying for an MSc in Science Communication.

Images: Strawberry, Simon Bratt; Smoothies, Oleksandra Naumenko