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Give kids water not sugary fruit juice, parents advised

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“Ban all drinks but water from dinner table, parents told,” is the The Daily Telegraph’s front page headline.

Obviously, the government is unlikely to directly intervene in our diets in such a draconian way. In fact, the news in many of the papers has highlighted new advice and recommendations designed to reduce the nation’s sugar consumption.

The recommendations come in two separate reports. The first is a draft report on the effect of carbohydrates on health (PDF, 4.4Mb) and has been produced by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). SACN is an independent advisory group that provides advice to the government and as such, its draft advice is not currently national policy.

The second is a report by Public Health England, outlining proposed steps to cut people’s sugar consumption in England (PDF, 893kb).

What are the key findings of the reports?

According to Public Health England (PHE), we are eating too much sugar. Current recommendations are that sugar should account for no more than 10% of energy intake a day (and some say that to tackle the obesity epidemic, this should be lowered to 5%). The evidence suggests that all age groups in England are eating more than this.

Children and young people aged between four and 18 years eat the most sugar as it accounts for around 14-15% of their daily energy intake, PHE says.

The main sources of sugar for young children are soft drinks and fruit juices. For teenagers it is soft drinks and energy drinks. Adults have a wider range of sources including:

  • soft drinks
  • table sugar and preserves
  • confectionery
  • fruit juice
  • alcoholic drinks
  • biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and fruit pies
  • breakfast cereals.

There appears to be an association with sugar intake and obesity levels in England, PHE has found. In 2012, two-thirds of adults were overweight or obese and one in three children aged 10-11 were overweight or obese.

Sugar consumption is driving a similar epidemic of tooth decay in children – in 2012 almost one-third of five-year-olds in England had tooth decay.

What are the key recommendations?

SACN’s recommendations

The SACN report makes a wide range of recommendations about carbohydrates more generally. In the context of today’s headlines focused on sugar consumption, the main recommendations are:

  • For the population to lower the consumption of free sugars to around 5% of daily dietary energy intake, which is 25g for women (5-6 teaspoons) and 35g (7-8 teaspoons) for men based on average population diets.
  • The consumption of sugars-sweetened beverages (such as fizzy drinks, squash) should be minimised by both children and adults.

Public Health England’s recommendations

PHE recommends that parents swap sugary drinks to water, lower-fat milk, sugar free or no added sugar drinks. Even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary, so try not to let your kids drink more than 150ml a day.

In light of these recommendations, PHE is to launch a national campaign on to encourage sugar reduction in both individuals and families.

Read more about sugar swaps from Change4Life.

How do I add my thoughts to the draft consultation?

The consultation period regarding the evidence provided in the SACN report will last until September 1 2014.

SACN is taking comments on scientific aspects of the report from stakeholders such as academics, NGOs, charities and industry representatives. The consultation response document can be found on the SACN website. SACN intends to publish its final report in March 2015.

Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

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