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Australia's labelling free-for-all

Researchers call for tooth-decay warnings on soft drinks

By RJ Whitehead , 31-Jan-2013
Last updated on 31-Jan-2013 at 08:41 GMT2013-01-31T08:41:19Z

The latest call for advisories on Australian food labels comes from researchers at the University of Adelaide, who say that any health warnings for soft drinks should include the risk of tooth decay. This follows a new study that looks at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated water by Australian children.

There is growing scrutiny on sweet drinks, especially soft drinks, because of a range of detrimental health effects on adults and children," said Dr Jason Armfield of the University of Adelaide's Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH).

Tooth decay carries with it significant physical, social and health implications, and we believe the risk of tooth decay should be included in any warnings relating to sweet drinks,” he says.

Armfield is the lead author of a new study to be published in the American Journal of Public Health that looks at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated water by more than 16,800 Australian children.

Figures through the roof

The study found that over half of children aged 5-16 years consumed at least one sugared drink per day, with 13% consuming an average of three or more per day. It also identified that boys consume more sweet drinks than girls, and that children from the lowest income families consumed almost 60% more sugared drinks. 

From a dental perspective, the researchers found that the number of decayed, missing and filled baby teeth was 46% higher among children who consumed three or more sweet drinks per day, compared to children who did not consume sweet drinks.

Consistent evidence has shown that the high acidity of many sweetened drinks, particularly soft drinks and sports drinks, can be a factor in dental erosion, as well as the sugar itself contributing to tooth decay,” Armfield explained.

Our study also showed that greater exposure to fluoridated water significantly reduces the association between children's sweet drink consumption and tooth decay. This reconfirms the benefits of community water fluoridation for oral health.”

The researchers also called on authorities to include dental risks alongside warnings for sweet drinks, if it decides to implement these. 

Warning against warnings

However, Australian Beverages Council chief executive Geoff Parker described health warnings on soft drinks, including the risk of tooth decay, as “way over the top”.

Teaching kids from early on about good dental hygiene practice is important. But singling out one particular part of the diet is a misguided approach to dealing with an issue such as dental hygiene,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The National Health and Medical Research Council is due to update its dietary guidelines in February. They are expected to include recommendations to “limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars … In particular, limit sugar-sweetened drinks.” The guidelines currently advise consumers to “moderate” their intake.

Earlier this month, FoodNavigator-Asia reported how the Cancer Council joined forces with Diabetes Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia in a campaign to tackle soft drink over-consumption, which it says is a key contributor to obesity in Australia.

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