Society’s sweet tooth supported the rise and dominance of sugary fizzy drinks in the 1850s and now poses a national health risk.
One in three children in the UK leave primary school overweight and one in 20 adults suffer from diabetes.
The fizzy drinks industry has tried to brush aside these health criticisms by offering smaller can and bottle sizes, in addition to using sweeteners instead of sugar.
Soft drinks are the single biggest source of added sugar for children in the UK – around 30% – and the second largest source for adults. Their consumption has long been linked to an obesity epidemic. The number of obese children and adolescents has risen tenfold in the last 40 years.
There are almost 9 teaspoons of sugar in a glass of Coca-Cola. Read more about the issue of sugar and the sugar tax in our guide to Soft Drinks.
The soft drinks industry is far from drying up, with companies and consumers just moving to Low/No/Reduced varieties. Low-sugar drinks often rely on artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, sucralose, and the new sweetener stevia.
New research does suggests, however, that zero-calorie sweeteners may, in fact, cause weight gain overall. The sweet taste may prompt cravings that just make us eat more. Some scientists also suggest that the sweet flavour may trick the body into releasing too much insulin, leading to weight gain in the long run or sweeteners might alter the gut microbiome, which would affect the body’s use of fat.2
Campaign group Action on Sugar think that the answer to obesity and the diseases that follow in its wake is to reduce our liking for sweetness. They want to see the gradual reduction of the amount of sugar in our drinks and our food and snacks without the use of sweeteners.
Soft drinks companies have been criticised for distorting facts about sweeteners. In 2016, the campaign group US Right to Know called Coca-Cola out for claims that ‘diet’ varieties assisted weight loss compared to not drinking soft drinks at all, rather than compared to consuming full-sugar varieties. The group requested that the FDA ban such claims.
Manu of our companies had a no artificial sweeteners policy for their drinks: Wayfairer (who make Karma), Gusto, Fever-Tree, Franklin and Sons, Free & Easy.