Here’s why parents should discourage sugary beverages

The average child in America drinks more than 30 gallons (around 114 litres) of sugary beverages each year, including sports drinks, sodas and fruit-flavoured refreshments. Global nutrition report also shows, more than four in 10 children drink sugary drinks daily and one in three do not eat fruit each day, a trend that is also reflected in Tanzania.

Because this excessive sugar consumption is tied to a greater risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes - Tanzanian Parliament in 2017 endorsed a set of ambitious governmental policies to help curb this. During the 2017/18 Tanzania budget, taxation on sugary beverages was highlighted where by the excise duty on carbonated drinks was increased to Sh61 per litre.

In the last two years, Tanzania has not made any changes with regards to taxation on the sugary beverages despite the rise in awareness on non-communicable diseases in Tanzania.

But, of course, parents don’t need to wait around for the government to act.

In a position paper released in March, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Heart Association (AHA) came up with five recommendations to help children drink fewer sweetened beverages, such as taxing sugary drinks; limiting the advertising of sugary beverages directed at children and teens; making water the default beverage on children’s menus; and improving the quality of nutrition labels - perhaps by adding front-of-pack labels about the health consequences of consuming sugary drinks.

“This is a comprehensive approach to tackling the problem,” says Federico Asch, a cardiologist with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C.

“Problems start because people are not educated about the detriments of sugary drinks. We want to give information so people can make educated decisions.”

Asch says people may think twice before offering soda to their children if they knew that a 20-ounce cola has the same amount of sugar as 14 cookies or five doughnuts.

He also wants everyone to know how to read and understand sugar content on the Nutrition Facts label, so they can see how much sugar is in products they buy.

So where’s the problem?

The worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Report by World Health Organisation (WHO) titled: Taxes on sugary drinks: Why do it?, an estimated 39 per cent of adults were overweight in 2014 and 13 per cent were obese. Some 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016 and this number of obese children and adolescents rose from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – a tenfold increase.

Not only this but the prevalence of overweight in pre-school aged children is increasing fastest in low- and lower middle-income countries. People who consume sugary drinks regularly – 1 to 2 cans a day or more – have a 26 per cent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely consume such drinks.

Speaking of non-communicable diseases, the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014 (6). Apart from diabetes, obesity is a major risk factor for heart diseases, cancers and other diseases.

Case study

Evidence as reported by World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that implementing taxes on sugary drinks leads to reduced consumption of these products.

Several countries are well on their way to implementing taxes on sugary drinks. In January 2014, the government of Mexico added a 1 peso per litre excise tax on any non-alcoholic beverage with added sugar (powder, concentrates or ready-todrink) to the country’s Special Tax on Production and Services, which is paid by the producer and represents about a 10 per cent increase in price for the consumer.

A study conducted by the Mexican National Institute of Public Health and the University of North Carolina evaluating the first two years of implementation showed an average reduction of 7.6 per cent in the purchase of taxed sugary drinks during 2014 and 2015.

Households with the fewest resources had an average reduction in purchases of 11.7 per cent. The study showed a 2.1 per cent increase in purchases of untaxed beverages, particularly purchased bottled water.

Over US$ 2.6 billion was raised during the first two years of implementation; some of this revenue is beginning to be invested towards installing water fountains in schools across Mexico.

A healthier choice

The idea of monitoring, taxing or policing sugary drink consumption remains controversial. There will always be people who complain that the government has no right to tell parents how to raise - or feed - their children. But, as Asch points out: “It’s not about stopping people from getting sugary drinks, and it’s not about health organisations or governments making decisions for the parent. It’s about giving a healthy choice first.”

If you take your children out to dinner, the default choice on children’s menus is often sugary soda, so that’s what children get. But if the menu offered water up front, children and parents would have a healthier option.

“If parents want to walk away from the healthy choice and let their children have a sugary drink, they can do that,” Asch says. But in this scenario, the parent has to actively make that choice.

Of course, there are eateries out there that are already making changes as parents push for healthier options. According to the AHA report, “Some restaurants have voluntarily changed the default beverage choice on the children’s menu from soda and other sugary drinks to water or milk, although more than 75 per cent of the 50 largest chain restaurants have not.”

How parents can encourage water consumption

Parents can support the AHA’s efforts by patronising restaurants that offer healthy choices. They can also push for such choices to be available in drink and snack machines or on the menus at the schools and other places their children frequent. But most importantly, they can encourage their children to turn to water first.

(What about juice, you might ask? Sip for sip, kid-friendly choices such as apple or grape juice have as much sugar as soda, which negates the small amount of vitamins they contain. Water is still a better choice.)

Start with a fun, reusable water bottle of your child’s choosing. Add some stickers or a funky reusable straw.

If the bottle is cool, your child is more likely to use it. Bonus: carrying a water bottle helps decrease your use of plastic beverage bottles, which end up in landfills or worse - in the ocean.

Single-use plastic bottles makes up more than 40 percent of all plastic trash, so if you can’t sell your kids on water, amp up the environmental message.

Tote that fun and fancy water bottle to restaurants, malls and outings. Make a game of spotting water refill stations or by seeing how many sips they can take each day.

You can also make games out of drinking water - sip some at a mock tea party, or fill small espresso cups with water and play “coffee shop baristas.”

If your children find that water tastes bland compared to sweet soda, try adding mint leaves, cinnamon sticks or a squeeze of citrus.

Have fun by freezing crushed berries in ice cube trays, and floating them in cold water. And make sure your kids are part of the process.

If you love apps, download Plant Nanny or Drink Water Aquarium. You’ll get reminders for you and your children to drink more water, and your children will totally dig the cute cartoon graphics.

And, finally, be a role model. If you make water your drink of choice, your children will most likely follow suit.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post.