More health warnings over soft drinks

Research suggests sugary drinks may affect our metabolism long-term

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A new study from Bangor University’s School of Sport, Health and Exercise has shown that regularly drinking soft drinks sweetened with sugar may cause weight gain and lead to potential long-term health problems.

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What’s worrying about the new research is that it suggests that regularly drinking sugary soft drinks can cause our muscles to change the way they use food as fuel, making them prefer to burn sugar over fat. And, worse, the changes may be lasting.

This means we could gain weight as our bodies become less efficient at burning fat. Researchers say that this switch to an inefficient metabolism is similar to that found in people with obesity problems and type 2 diabetes. And the small study suggests these changes come into play after only one month of drinking soft drinks every day.

Dr Hans-Peter Kubis, who led the research, said, “This study proves that our concerns over sugary drinks have been correct.”

However, a spokesperson from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) countered the findings, saying, “A study that lasts only four weeks is no basis on which to make claims about effects that last a lifetime, particularly not if the study has a tiny sample size of only 11 people.  Furthermore, the diet given to the people in the study included 30 per cent of its calories from sugar, much more than is currently recommended by dietary guidelines. Soft drinks, like any other food or drink, can be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.”

According to the Daily Mail, past research has also shown that children are particularly susceptible to the effects of soft drinks. A study at University College London’s Health Behaviour Research Centre found that drinking soft drinks makes children want to drink more of them, even when they’re not thirsty, and may set their habits for life by giving them “an increased preference for sweet things in their mouth”.

Another study found that fizzy drinks generally push children’s tastes towards fattening, high-salt food and can become addictive.

Dr Kubis said, “The body absorbs liquid sugars so much faster because they are more easily taken into the stomach lining and this rapid intake fires up the body’s pleasure responses. At the same time, your brain reduces it desire for the taste of nutrients such as vitamins or minerals.”

Dr Kubis also said it was time the Government took action to address the problem of soft drink consumption.

“Clearly taxation on sugary drinks is overdue,”he said. “This money could be invested in the NHS where it is urgently needed to treat people with obesity problems and diabetes.”

Our consumption of soft drinks has more than doubled since 1985, with an increase of 4% in the past 12 months, according to the British Soft Drinks Association, which disagrees with the idea of soft drink taxation. “61 per cent of all soft drinks contain no added sugar,” says the BSDA, “and taxing them would not help fight obesity.

However, countries such as France and Denmark have already introduced soft-drink taxes to cut consumption.

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