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Reducing sugar in sugar-sweetened drinks could prevent 300,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes

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A new study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal suggests that reducing sugar content in sugar sweetened drinks in the UK by 40 per cent over five years, without replacing them with any artificial sweeteners, could prevent 500,000 cases of overweight and 1 million cases of obesity, in turn preventing around 300,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes, over two decades. The study is by Professor Graham MacGregor and colleagues at Queen Mary University of London, UK.  

Using data from National Diet and Nutrition Survey and British Soft Drinks Association annual reports, the authors calculated how much sugar sweetened beverages is being consumed and the calorie contribution of this to our daily diets. 

The calculations showed that a 40 per cent reduction in free sugars added to sugar sweetened beverages over five years would lead to an average reduction in energy intake of 38.4 kcal (calories) per day. By the end of the 5th year and this would lead to an average reduction in body weight of 1.20kg in adults, decreasing the number of overweight and obese adults by approximately 0.5 million (1.0%) and 1.0 million (2.1%) respectively.

The authors say this would, in turn, prevent 274,000-309,000 obesity-related Type 2 diabetes over the next two decades. 

The authors said: “The proposed strategy could lead to a profound reduction in energy intake from sugar-sweetened beverages and could therefore lower the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes in the long term. These findings provide strong support for the implementation of the proposed strategy.”

Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: “Diets that are high in sugar and calories are fuelling the rise in obesity, and in turn the dramatic rise in Type 2 diabetes, a serious health condition that can lead to devastating complications such as blindness, amputations and stroke. Unlike Type 1 diabetes which is not linked to obesity and cannot be prevented, weight gain and obesity are the most potent risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and it is therefore essential that we put measures in place to help people make healthier choices and lead healthier lives. Removing sugar from sugar-sweetened drinks products is one step that can make it easier for everyone, young and old, to reduce their sugar intake. 

“However, reducing sugar content in soft drinks alone is not enough to achieve the reduction in sugar intake we need to see across the population. We need to see the Government act on recommendations made by Public Health England, including restricting marketing of unhealthy foods to children, reducing and rebalancing the number of price promotions offered on unhealthy foods, implementing a clear and transparent programme for reformulating unhealthy foods and reducing portion sizes. It must also introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks to reduce consumption. People also need to be supported to undertake regular physical activity and supported to choose healthier foods, including through a clear and consistent food labelling system. Until these recommendations are implemented, we will continue to see cases of Type 2 diabetes soar at an alarming rate, costing not only human lives but also crippling the already overstretched NHS.”

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