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Leading doctors reveal the eight ways Governments can slash consumption of sugary drinks

Leading doctors have revealed eight of the most successful ways governments can try to slash the consumption of sugary drinks.

Interventions include labels that rate the healthiness of the beverage and cutting back on what’s available at schools.

The recommendations were based on what has already been proven to reduce sugar drink consumption in scientific trials.

The UK Government has already targeted the fizzy drinks market with a sugar tax levy which pushed prices up and saw some drinks reformulated. 

But it’s intent on doing more to try and slim down British children, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month calling on the Chief Medical Officer to help him come up with new fat-busting ideas. 

Leading doctors have revealed the eight most successful ways Governments can slash the consumption of sugary drinks – a driving force of the obesity epidemic

Sugary drinks are considered a driving force behind the obesity epidemic and also contribute to tooth decay, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Cochrane, an international organisation of health experts, has produced its latest review looking at ways which science has found to be effective in cutting consumption. 

A total of 58 international studies involving more than one million participants were looked at by researchers from the UK and Germany.

A variety of approaches have been trialled in 19 countries but some appeared to be more effective than others.

These include easy-to-understand labels, either with traffic lights or star ratings, showing how healthy a drink is.

Traffic light labelling is currently optional on food and drinks in the UK but there have been calls to make it mandatory after Britain’s departure from the EU. 

Limiting availability of products in schools; price increases in restaurants, shops and leisure centres; and promoting healthier options in supermarkets were strongly supported.


  • Labels that are easy to understand, such as ‘traffic-light’ labels, and labels that rate the healthiness of beverages with stars or numbers.
  • Limits to the availability of sugary drinks in schools.
  • Price increases on sugary drinks in restaurants, shops and leisure centres.
  • Healthier drinks as default on chain restaurants’ children’s menus instead of sugary drinks as the default.
  • Promotion and better placement of healthier beverages in supermarkets.
  • Government food benefits (e.g. food stamps) which cannot be used to purchase sugary drinks.
  • Community campaigns focused on supporting healthy beverage choices.
  • Measures that improve the availability of low-calorie beverages at home, e.g. through home deliveries of bottled water and diet beverages.

Professor Hans Hauner, one of the authors of the review, from Technical University Munich in Germany, said: ‘Rates of obesity and diabetes are rising globally, and this trend will not be reversed without broad and effective action. 

‘Governments and industry in particular must do their part to make the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers. 

‘This review highlights key measures that can help to accomplish this.’   

Dr James Doidge, senior research associate at University College London, added: ‘Cochrane reviews provide some of the most valuable, fair and transparent summaries of the available evidence on many health interventions. 

‘While this review provides useful insights into environmental measures that could be implemented to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, one really interesting question is how these measures stack up against the taxes that are currently being implemented or considered by many governments.’


From April 2018, soft drinks companies have been required to pay a levy on drinks with added sugar. 

If a drink contains between 5g and 8g of sugar per 100ml the tax is 18p per litre, whereas if a drink has more than 8g of sugar per 100ml, the tax is 24p.

Fruit juices and milk are not included in the tax. 

The move aims to help tackle childhood obesity. Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are now the single biggest source of dietary sugar for children and teenagers.   

Some drinks, including Fanta, Lucozade, Sprite, Dr Pepper and Vimto, had their recipes changed so they contained less than 5g of sugar and the price did not need to be put up.

However, others like Coca Cola and Pepsi refused to reduce the amount of sugar and, as a result, the price of them increased.  

The Government has predicted the levy will raise £240million a year, which will be spent on sports clubs and breakfast clubs in schools.

The sugar tax raised £153.8m in the first six months after it was introduced, between April and October 2018. 

In the UK around one in three children are overweight to some degree by the time they leave primary school.

And one in every 25 is classed as severely obese – the fattest possible category.

Children who grow up fat are more likely to stay that way into adulthood and develop cancer or heart disease or have a stroke. 

As a means to control rising levels of childhood obesity, a sugar tax was implemented by the UK Government in April 2018.

It was not mentioned in this review but is expected to be subject to two future reviews along with sugar-added foods. 

Whether it makes a difference currently is in dispute despite aiming to cut the number of overweight children by half before 2030, along with other strategies.

In April, researchers at University of Nottingham claimed it is a useless tactic after finding children who drink soda do not consume more calories and are therefore not heavier. 

However, as other experts point out, habits made in childhood last into adulthood, taking on a whole host of health problems.  

Seven to 10-year-olds should have no more than 24g of added sugar a day, according to Government guidelines.

But a single can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) contains more than the maximum amount of sugar a child should have over a whole day.

Adults in the UK consume more than double the recommended amount of sugar, according to Public Health England. 

Control of advertising was another intervention addressed in the Cochrane Review, but researchers said there were not enough studies.  

Dr Amelia Lake, reader in public health nutrition, Teesside University, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘They [the researchers] have produced a list of interventions – for which there is some evidence – that will help reduce consumption of these drinks. 

‘However they acknowledge some of the studies are considered lower quality – perhaps they don’t have a control or it was a poorly reported study.’