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expert reaction to conference poster looking at sugary drinks, energy consumption and obesity in children

Research presented in a conference poster at the European Congress on Obesity has found that in a survey of children there is no strong/direct link between drinking sugar sweetened beverages and greater energy consumption or higher BMI.

Prof Tom Sanders, Professor emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics, King’s College London, said:

“The findings of a this study are not surprising as the participants were under 10 years of age and they are consistent with earlier reports using data from the National Diet and  Nutrition (NDNS) survey.  The highest consumers of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) are teenagers and the association between sugar sweetened drinks and obesity appears strongest in adolescent children.

“A further limitation is that obesity is usually associated with a lower reported energy intake rather than a higher intake, which is attributed to under-reporting.  As obesity has become more prevalent, the reliability of the NDNS to estimate energy intake is now open to question as average energy intakes seem to fall year by year such that reported intakes are now about 30-35 percent lower than in the 1960-1970s.”

Dr Katarina Kos, Senior Lecturer in Diabetes and Obesity, University of Exeter, said:

“Excess energy intake is key to the development of obesity.  This study examined young children and based its conclusions on the contribution of sugar sweetened beverages on four-day food diaries.  The full details of the study are not published as yet, but I assume that when studying 4- to 10-year-olds, the food diaries will have been completed by parents and are not observations taken directly by researchers, which will have its limitations.  Self- reported calorie intake is not always the most reliable as it is easy to forget all the details e.g. what one had for breakfast, lunch and in between snacks.  Recording of amounts of calories is even trickier.  My other concern about making conclusions from this study’s observations is that we are looking at a delayed effect, e.g. the intake of sugar in these young children may only become apparent in their later years.

“The study should not be seen as reassurance that we can relax about sugar sweetened drinks, but as the authors also say, it highlights the complexity of environment.  Children do exercise less as they used to, thus need fewer calories/less energy, whatever the source.”

Abstract title: ‘Should the soft drinks industry levy (“the sugar tax”) be framed as a childhood obesity intervention?’ by Anabtawi, O. et al.  This is a conference talk that was discussed at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow. There is no paper as this is not published work.

Declared interests

Prof Tom Sanders: “Honorary Nutritional Director of HEART UK.  Scientific Governor of the British Nutrition Foundation.  He is now emeritus but when he was doing research at King’s College London, the following applied: Tom does not hold any grants or have any consultancies with companies involved in the production or marketing of sugar-sweetened drinks.  In reference to previous funding to Tom’s institution: £4.5 million was donated to King’s College London by Tate & Lyle in 2006; this funding finished in 2011.  This money was given to the College and was in recognition of the discovery of the artificial sweetener sucralose by Prof Hough at the Queen Elizabeth College (QEC), which merged with King’s College London.  The Tate & Lyle grant paid for the Clinical Research Centre at St Thomas’ that is run by the Guy’s & St Thomas’ Trust, it was not used to fund research on sugar.  Tate & Lyle sold their sugar interests to American Sugar so the brand Tate & Lyle still exists but it is no longer linked to the company Tate & Lyle PLC, which gave the money to King’s College London in 2006.  Tom also used to work for Ajinomoto on aspartame about 8 years ago.  Tom was a member of the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee that recommended that trans fatty acids be removed from the human food chain.  Tom has previously acted as a member of the Global Dairy Platform Scientific Advisory Panel and Tom is a member of the Programme Advisory Committee of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.  In the past Tom has acted as a consultant to Archer Daniel Midland Company and received honoraria for meetings sponsored by Unilever PLC.  Tom’s research on fats was funded by Public Health England/Food Standards Agency.”

Dr Katarina Kos: “I declare no conflict of interest.”

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