Nutrition experts are sounding the alarm: although the sugar content in soft drinks in Austria has fallen by almost 20 percent over the past ten years, sugar reduction is now stagnating.
This is a result of the beverage check 2022 of the Salzburg institute SIPCAN (Special Institute for Preventive Cardiology And Nutrition). 45 percent of all beverages do not meet the WHO criteria: they are too sweet, and the sugar content has even increased slightly compared to the previous year.
Sugar and sweetener content: 500 beverages tested on Austrian market
Since 2010, the Salzburg Institute has been testing the sugar and sweetener content of more than 500 beverages on the Austrian market every year between November and February. The latest results of the 2022 Beverage Check show that, for the first time since 2012, the average sugar content has not fallen further compared to the previous year, but has stagnated at six grams (6.06 g per 100 ml, compared to 6.01 g in the previous year), as study leader Manuel Schatzer explained.
"It's hugely important to raise awareness of the potentially high sugar intake via drinks, highlight the amounts of sugar they contain and make the healthier choice the easier choice", according to Schatzer. "In recent years, our work has shown that a positive change in the sense of a slow but steady reduction in sugar intake is possible."
Sugar content stagnates: These are the reasons
In an interview with APA, the nutritionist cited two main reasons for the fact that sugar levels are now stagnating: First, the sugar content of beverages that do not yet meet the SIPCAN criteria has not been reduced enough. Secondly, manufacturers of products from abroad, which have increasingly penetrated the Austrian market in recent years, would still not comply with these criteria enough.
Reference values: beverages should have a maximum of 6.7 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters
For a healthier choice of beverage, the Salzburg Institute defined orientation criteria – based on the corresponding criteria of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the D-A-CH reference values for nutrient intake. These are that beverages should contain a maximum of 6.7 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters (including naturally contained sugar) and no sweeteners.
The current beverage check shows that 45 percent of all beverages still do not meet these criteria, i.e. are too sweet or contain sweeteners. In addition, the proportion has even increased slightly compared to the previous year (42.4 percent). 12.1 percent of all beverages failed the current check because they contain sweeteners (12.5 percent in the previous year).
High sugar content: higher risk of obesity
A high sugar content in beverages is also associated by nutritionists with a higher risk of obesity. "The past two years of the Corona pandemic have taught us a lot and changed a few things. Unfortunately, overweight and obesity are even more serious risk factors for numerous secondary diseases and, in particular, for a severe course of Covid 19", says the current study.
An international study from the first Corona year in 2020 found that people in lockdown turn to more fried and sweet foods, especially young people aged ten to 19 years old. The scientists of the Salzburg institute expressed their concern about the fact that especially during the pandemic the percentage of overweight people increased. Current data from over 190.000 children and adolescents in the USA, five to eleven-year-olds are particularly affected. "Of these, 45.7 percent are already overweight or obese, compared with 36.2 percent before the pandemic."
BMI data survey at Carinthian elementary schools showed worrying pandemic effects
A survey of BMI data at Carinthian elementary schools also confirmed this for Austria, albeit at a lower level: "While 15 percent of seven- to ten-year-old girls were still overweight or obese in fall 2019, the proportion was already 19.6 percent after one year of pandemic." Boys are even more affected, with their share rising from 15.4 to 21.3 percent. The changed living conditions caused by the pandemic are blamed as the reasons for this: reduced physical activity. Increased sedentary behavior combined with an unfavorable diet.
In beverages, people can absorb a large amount of sugar in a very short time. A quarter-liter glass of lemonade contains an average of just under seven sugar cubes. This is already about half of the daily recommended maximum. This was given by the WHO for an average adult with 50 grams (about ten teaspoons) of free sugar. This also includes the sugar that occurs naturally in honey, syrup or fruit juices.
WHO: High-sugar beverages one of the main causes of obesity
According to the WHO, high-sugar beverages are considered one of the main causes for the development of overweight, obesity and type 2 diabetes. SIPCAN board member Friedrich Hoppichler. He is also medical director. Internist at the Hospital of the Merciful Brothers in Salzburg. He is also medical director. Internist at the Hospital of the Merciful Brothers in Salzburg.
The criterion "no sweeteners was established because, from the experts' point of view, replacing sugar with sweeteners is not a satisfactory solution. "In a recent study of over 100.000 adults just confirmed the long suspected link between sweetener consumption and increased tumor risk. The aim is also to get consumers used to less sweetness in the long term. And this does not succeed with sweeteners instead of sugar", warned Hoppichler.
Physicians' appeal: beverage producers should continue to work on sugar reduction
The physician appealed to beverage producers to continue working on sugar reduction, but also to consumers to consciously check their beverages for nutritional values and ingredients. "Increasingly reach for beverages with less sweetness, and pay close attention to moderate portion sizes when consuming sweeter beverages." In novel products where water is transformed into a "functional drink" by adding a mixture of vitamins, minerals, flavors and also sweeteners If sugar is to be used as a substitute for sugar, the ingredient lists should be read particularly carefully in order to avoid sweeteners such as aspartame, cyclamate, sucralose and the like.