Study highlights overlooked impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on oral health

The latest Australian research to look at sugar-sweetened beverage consumption reveals one in seven adolescents is drinking more than two cups a day, and is two to three times more likely to have oral health problems than those who do not drink sweetened beverages.

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The University of Sydney study, published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, reports on the daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by 3,671 year 6, 8 and 10 students.

It shows energy drinks are the most popular sweetened beverage with 20 percent of adolescents consuming at least one cup a day.

Lead author and Senior Research Fellow Dr Louise Hardy said the study adds weight to the sugar tax debate, highlighting the significant and often overlooked impacts sugar-sweetened beverages have on oral health.

“Consuming two cups a day is roughly equal to 11 teaspoons of sugar which is well in excess of the World Health Organizations’ guidelines for sugar intake without even looking at food consumption,” said Dr Hardy from the Sydney School of Public Health and Charles Perkins Center.

“We need strategies to reduce adolescent’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, not only due to weight implications, but also because of oral health.”

“Bad teeth can have significant and lasting social and health impacts. It can cause considerable pain and suffering, and by changing what people eat alter their speech and quality of life.”

The research is based on data from the NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition survey, a cross sectional representative survey of NSW primary and high school students.

The study reports associations between different types of sugar-sweetened beverages and oral health impacts showing all beverages, with the exception of fruit juice, were associated with frequent toothache or food avoidance.

Interestingly, the odds of oral health problems were highest amongst adolescents who drank diet soft drinks. The authors suggest further research is needed to explore if this is due to associations with other eating behavior in this group (for example consumption of sucking confectionary) or an effect of artificial sweeteners.

“The clear association between oral health problems and diet and new generation soft drinks, such as energy, sports drinks and flavored waters is a real concern as these beverages are marketed as a beverage of choice for adolescents. Many view them as a healthy alternative,” said Dr Hardy.

While the study showed no consistent significant associations between sugar-sweetened beverage intake and unhealthy weight status, Dr Hardy said the cross-sectional study design does not allow researchers to conclude cause and effect.

“Given the publicity surrounding the potential harm of excessive sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, it is possible that adolescents in the unhealthy weight categories have reduced their intake.”

“However, adolescents who drink energy drinks were still more likely to be in an unhealthy weight category and those that drink one or more cups of sports drinks had a higher probability of having abdominal obesity. “

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