Irish teens see biggest reduction in sugary drinks consumption, research finds

A study by NUI Galway reveals a dramatic shift in habits of Irish adolescents between 2002 and 2018.
Irish teens see biggest reduction in sugary drinks consumption, research finds

Irish teenagers have seen the sharpest decline in the consumption of sugary soft drinks across Europe, but those in lower-income families continue to drink the products at higher levels than their affluent peers, new research has found.

A study by NUI Galway reveals a dramatic shift in habits of Irish adolescents between 2002 and 2018.

The research, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, analysed data dating back almost 20 years on more than 530,000 school children aged 11, 13 and 15, across 21 European countries.

It found that daily consumption of sugary soft drinks declined in all 21 countries from 2002-2018.

Ireland experienced the sharpest drop in consumption – from 37.4 per cent to 5.7 per cent of respondents saying they consumed sugary soft drinks everyday (a fall of 84.8 per cent).

Only the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland had higher frequency of consumption than Ireland as a starting point for the research.

Ireland’s dramatic fall was followed by England, with a fall of 74.9 per cent, and Norway, with a fall of 72.1 per cent.

In most countries, including Ireland, boys were more likely to report daily soft-drink consumption than girls.

Prof Colette Kelly from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, and co-principal investigator of the study, said: “While we welcome this substantial reduction in frequency of consumption of soft-drinks, choosing water or milk is the healthier choice for adolescents.”

The research identified trends in soft drink consumption by socio-economic group, with differences in daily consumption between less affluent and more affluent groups getting larger over time in some countries, including in Ireland.

In 2018, daily consumption of sugary soft drinks was more prevalent among the least affluent adolescents in 11 out of 21 countries – the 20 per cent least affluent adolescents were more likely to report daily drinking of sugary soft drinks than their most affluent peers.

In Ireland, 11 per cent of children in the lowest social class group reported intake of sugary soft drinks on a daily basis, compared with 4 per cent of children from the highest social class groups.

Prof Kelly said: “Factors such as a whole school approach to health promotion and access to drinking water in schools contributed to the decrease in sugary soft drink consumption. While it is positive to note the reduction, inequalities are still evident and need attention.”

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