Warnings needed in obesity battle: researcher

Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014

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Tobacco-like warning labels on sugary drinks are needed to curb children's habit of drinking them while playing and watching sport, health researchers say.

More than 80 Wellington children aged 10 to 12 were given disposable cameras and asked to take photos of the drinks they saw being consumed at sports practice sessions and games over a two-week period, in an Otago University study published in Appetite.

Few of the drinks spotted had nutritional benefits, with more than two-thirds being classed by researchers as "limited" - flavoured milks or water, fruit juices and sports drinks - and another 10 per cent as "not recommended" - Coke Zero and V.

Children told researchers the drinks were part of their sport-related diet, were promoted for sport and were available at sports games - and most said they liked them best.

Lead researcher Moira Smith said that with one-third of New Zealand children aged 2 to 14 overweight or obese, urgent action was needed to address the issue.

Warning labels, taxes, regulation of marketing, particularly around sports sponsorship, and setting rules around portion and serving sizes were needed, she said. "One drink [Loaded Isotonic] was a litre and the manufacturer had labelled it as a single serving - a litre is a lot of water to drink, let alone a sugary drink, and it had 15 teaspoons of sugar. That's three times the amount of total sugars that should contribute to a child's energy intake in a day."

A poster for a one-litre Loaded Isotonic photographed by a child described it as: "Energy + hydration, new sport assassin isotonic sports drink with guarana and taurine".

A third of children took photos of sports drinks, such as Powerade Isotonic and Mizone Isopower, which both have about 11tsp of sugar a serving. Fruit drinks such as e2, with 18.5tsp in an 800g serving, and G-Force, with 17tsp in a 650g serving, were also popular.

Children made unhealthy choices because the drinks were freely available, cheap and tasty, Smith said. Advertising also played a role. "They're seeing athletes who have performed well drinking these drinks and they certainly associate improved performance and athletic prowess with drinking them."

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- The Dominion Post

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