Australian Beverage Council dismisses Columbia soft drink study

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Peak industry body for the Australian non-alcoholic beverages industry, the Australian Beverages Council, has rejected calls for soft drinks to carry warning labels in response to recommendations made in a recent study from Columbia University.

The study which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found ‘strong and consistent’ links between soft drink consumption and aggression in children.

Key researcher of the study, Dr Shakira Suglia said that her research team “found that the child’s aggressive behaviour score increased with every increase in soft drinks servings per day.” 

The study which was a collaboration between Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, University of Vermont, and Harvard School of Public Health, assessed approximately 3000 five year old children across 20 large US cities.

The researchers found that 43 percent of children consumed at least one serving of soft drink per day, and four percent consumed four or more servings each day.

Geoff Parker, CEO of the Australian Beverages Council dismissed the study’s recommendations to display warning labels on soft drinks.

“Calls for warning statements regarding the amount of sugar soft drinks contain are not only absurd but lack any credible evidence to support them. In accordance with Australian food laws, all beverages clearly state on the back label exactly how much sugar each drink contains.

"In addition to meeting these mandatory requirements, members of the Australian Beverages Council also voluntarily put the amount of kilojoules (energy) the products contain on the front-of-pack label. The industry would strongly argue this provides consumers with more than enough information to make an informed choice” said Parker.

“With regards to the study attempting to link soft drink consumption with behavioural problems in five year olds, the authors failed to factor out other important considerations and did not prove cause and effect. The authors also noted that their study ‘is not able to identify the nature of the association between soft drinks and problem behaviours’.

Parker stated that overall soft drink consumption was declining in Australia, and that the industry has made a concerted effort to make no/ lower calorie options more widely available in addition to the following:

  • The Introduction of smaller pack sizes
  • The elimination of marketing to children under 12 years
  • The elimination of regular soft drink sales from primary schools
  • The Voluntarily display of kilojoule (energy) on front-of-pack labelling

The findings of the Columbia University study mirror results founds in a recent study which links junk food consumption to behavioural problems in children.

The study which was a collaboration between Deakin University in Victoria and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, found that the consumption of highly processed junk food while pregnant was linked to behaviour problems such as anxiety, depression and moods swings in children.

Lead researcher of the study, Professor Felice Jacka said that the study is the first of its kind show a clear link between diet during pregnancy, early childhood and mental health.