The choice of soft drinks available brings pleasure to millions and the simple assumption that the sugar they contain is harmful is simply wrong.
First of all, the increase in the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes hasn't been accompanied by an increase in the consumption of sugary soft drinks. That would be the first thing to look for if trying to establish a connection, but soft drinks consumption hasn't gone up the way the 'harmful' theory says it should. What has gone up, in fact, is the consumption of diet, low calorie and no-added-sugar drinks, but they don't lead to people putting on weight.
Obesity arises from an excess of calories in the diet over calories expended in exercise. Soft drinks without calories don't add to the intake side of the equation.
Secondly, soft drinks that contain added sugar are now a minority in the marketplace. More than 60% of all soft drinks are now diet, low calorie and no added sugar, compared with only 30% 20 years ago. There's a growing diversity in the range of soft drinks available, so treating them as if they're all the same has never been more out of touch.
And thirdly, even among those drinks that do contain added sugar, it's clearly stated on the label. Nutritional information, including calorie content and sugar content, is stated in a clear format on the front of the pack. The GDA format enables consumers easily to compare one product with another and choose the one most suitable for their diet.
People who are overweight or obese need to look at their diets and their lifestyles to bring their calorie intake into line with their calorie expenditure. For some people, that might mean consuming less, while for others, it may mean exercising more. I suspect that for most people, it's actually a combination of the two that's required, but each person is different and each will have to make their own decisions about what to do. No regulation, however well-intentioned, can take people's diet and lifestyle decisions for them.
In that context, the role of a responsible industry is to provide the full information that people need in order to make informed decisions about their products, and also to encourage them to make those informed decisions. Actions such as promoting the diet option as much as, or often more than, the regular version, are ways in which the industry can help.
The industry will also speak out against a misguided regulatory approach based on the theory that one size fits all. Policies on obesity need to be targeted at those who need help, and not simply used to punish people's everyday choices and little pleasures.
Richard Laming is media director, British Soft Drinks Association.
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