Water as only mealtime drink 'will combat child obesity'

  • 26 June 2014
  • From the section Health
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Child drinking water

Children should be given only water to drink with meals to help tackle the obesity crisis, experts argue.

A group of nutritional scientists said sugary drinks were empty calories and people had got "out of the habit of drinking water" with meals.

The call comes as Public Health England prepares to publish its plans for cutting the nation's sugar intake.

Sugar producer AB Sugar said "demonising one ingredient" would not "solve the obesity epidemic".

Dr Julian Cooper, head of food science at AB Sugar, said targeting sugar was not a "silver bullet" and people should balance their calorie intake against how much they exercise.

Advice currently states that no more than 11% of daily calories should come from sugars added by the manufacturer or chef as well as that from honey, syrup and fruit juice. The figure is 10% if alcohol is excluded.

All age groups, particularly children, struggle to meet that target in the UK.

Scientists speaking before Public Health England's announcement argued there were no easy solutions to tackling obesity.

However, they rounded on sugary drinks.

"Choose something else," said Prof Susan Jebb, of the University of Oxford.

"It comes back to simple advice to parents - encourage your children to drink water.

"Once they've been weaned, 'children should be drinking water' is absolutely the message. Milk is fine, but that should be the mainstay of our advice."

Prof Tom Sanders, the head of diabetes and nutritional sciences division at King's College London, said: "Kids should get into the habit of drinking water.

"The problem is people don't drink water anymore. I think families should put water on the table, not pop, [which] should be a treat."

Media captionCoca Cola Europe boss James Quincey confronted by Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman in November 2013

The panel of experts said the main impact of sugar on health was as a source of calories in the diet that can lead to obesity.

However, they added there was emerging evidence that getting a large percentage of daily energy from sugar may be damaging.

They said sugar may increase the risk of heart problems and type-2 diabetes beyond the impact it has on waistlines.

'Sugar tax'

The World Health Organization has already set the mood on sugars.

In March, draft guidelines reiterated that sugars should constitute no more than 10% of energy intake and that people and governments should be aiming for 5%.

The limits would apply to all sugars added to food, as well as sugar naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

On Thursday, Public Health England will publish plans to help the nation reduce its sugar intake and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition will publish a draft report on carbohydrates and health.

Media captionProfessor Susan Jebb: "Water is the best way to get the fluid we need"

Proposals could include a tax on soft drinks or targeting the sugar intake of children and teenagers.

The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, has already argued that "we may need to introduce a sugar tax".

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