My Round: Squeezing out the truth

As if rotting your teeth and bashing your wallet isn't enough, the latest research really takes the sparkle out of fizzy drinks and juices
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's always gratifying to see the soft-drinks industry take a drubbing, as it has done in recent weeks. And it happens so regularly that you almost feel a little sorry for it. Here they are, carrying out their economic duty of persuading young and/or foolish consumers to buy tasty, exciting and profitable drinks. And then along comes someone who points out that their products are none too good for the nation's health, or for the nation's pocketbook.

It's always gratifying to see the soft-drinks industry take a drubbing, as it has done in recent weeks. And it happens so regularly that you almost feel a little sorry for it. Here they are, carrying out their economic duty of persuading young and/or foolish consumers to buy tasty, exciting and profitable drinks. And then along comes someone who points out that their products are none too good for the nation's health, or for the nation's pocketbook.

First there was the news about fizzy drinks and their part in tooth erosion. The term "tooth erosion", just to remind you, refers to the gradual destruction of tooth enamel, the hardest substance in the body, by acid. If you lose it, you expose the underlying dentine or even the soft tooth pulp. Think of blackened stumps with exposed nerve endings which quiver and shriek every time the air passes.

Well, tooth erosion was on the minds of the British Dental Association a couple of months ago when the British Dental Journal published a study on the effects of fizzy-drink consumption. The good news for my friends in the drinks biz: it didn't identify a causal mechanism for the relation between fizzy drinks and tooth erosion, and it acknowledged that the relationship is complex. The bad news: the statistical correlation was truly horrifying. In 12-year-olds who drank four fizzy drinks a day (even when those drinks were sugar-free), the risk of tooth erosion was 252 per cent higher. In 14-year-olds, the risk was 513 per cent higher.

After the fizzy drinks had taken this PR beating, it was the turn of the "juice drink" sector. Food Magazine, the Food Commission's quarterly, conducted a cost analysis of the juice content of a number of drinks. What it found did not make the drinks look like nutritional knights in shining armour. The pure fruit juice in them commonly cost over £5 a litre, and costs rose in some cases to £20 or £30 a litre. In many of the drinks, the juice content was around 10 per cent. The remainder, additives aside, would be water and sugar. Thus, for instance, a litre of Sainsbury's Economy Orange Juice costs 38 pence and delivers as much juice as six and a half litres of Florida Style Sunny D Original. You can read more at www.foodcomm.org.uk/lowjuice_04.htm.

And there's further bad news for the industry, in the form of a study funded by the Food Standards Agency in 12 secondary schools. It installed machines vending "healthier" drinks, water, fruit juice and milk, alongside the usual machines, and found that, shock horror, students frequently chose pure juices, flavoured milk and milkshakes, semi-skimmed milk and mineral water.

This could spell real trouble for the industry. At the moment we have a generation of parents who are too busy (or poor, or ignorant) to think much about what their children are drinking. But their children - the consumers of the future - may not be so easily fooled. What does this mean for the soft-drinks people? Health warnings on bottles of Diet Pepsi? Juice drinks that actually contain a reasonable amount of juice and a lower percentage of water and sugar? Where will it all end? Worrying times indeed.

Top Corks: Three Somerfield savings

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