26 June 2014
Last updated at 04:05
Children should be given only water to drink at teatime to help tackle the obesity crisis, experts argue.
A group of nutritional scientists said sugary drinks were empty calories, damaged health and contributed to obesity.
They argued people were “out of the habit of drinking water”, which should be put on the table with every meal.
The call comes as Public Health England prepares to publish its plans for cutting the nation’s sugar intake.
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.
“Chose 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.”
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.
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.
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”.