Sugary drinks can cause tooth decay as well as systemic health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, prompting researchers from Germany and the United Kingdom to study different strategies for reducing consumption at the population level.
The researchers examined 58 studies that assessed a range of approaches aimed at changing the physical or social environment where people buy or consume sugary drinks, such as schools, cafes, restaurants, homes, and retail outlets.
Approaches included labelling and pricing of sugar-sweetened drinks and healthy alternatives as well as community-based campaigns to encourage healthier choices used across 19 countries in North and South America, Australasia, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
The research uncovered several measures that reduce consumption, including:
- Labels that are easy to understand, such as “traffic light” labels, and labels that rate the healthiness of beverages with stars or numbers
- Limits on the availability of sugary drinks in schools
- Price increases on sugary drinks in restaurants, stores, and leisure centers
- Children’s menus in chain restaurants that include healthier beverages instead of sugary drinks as the default
- Promotion and better placement of healthier beverages in supermarkets
- Government food benefits such as food stamps that cannot be used to purchase sugary drinks
- Community campaigns focused on supporting healthy beverage choices
- Measures that improve the availability of low-calorie beverages at home such as through home deliveries of bottled water and diet beverages
Previous research has shown that health education and taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages also can help reduce consumption, but the current review did not examine these approaches.
“Rates of obesity and diabetes are rising globally, and this trend will not be reversed without broad and effective action,” said author Hans Hauner, professor of nutritional medicine at Technical University Munich, Germany.
“Governments and industry in particular must do their part to make the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers. This review highlights key measures that can help to accomplish this,” said Hauner.
“This review highlights essential building blocks for a comprehensive strategy to support healthy beverage choices for the whole population,” said author Eva Rehfuess, professor of public health and health services research at LMU Munich, Germany.
“However, we need to do more work to understand what works best in specific settings, such as schools and workplaces, for people of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and in countries at different levels of economic development,” said Rehfuess.
“This would help us to improve existing approaches further. Policy-makers and practitioners who implement such measures should therefore cooperate with researchers to allow for high-quality evaluations,” said Rehfuess.
“Sugary drinks are a global problem, and middle-income countries such as South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil are particularly affected,” said lead author Peter von Philipsborn, research associate at LMU Munich. “The measures highlighted in this review should be considered by policymakers worldwide.”