Sydney teens are hooked on sugary drinks

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Teens are hooked on sugar-sweetened beveragesRecent research has found that even though teens are aware of the damages sugary drinks can do to their health, they’re still guzzling them down.

Consumption of sugary beverages is associated with a range of health issues, from obesity through to serious tooth decay. The study found Western Sydney teens consumed far more sweetened beverages—soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks and energy drinks—than was healthy.

Researchers from Western Sydney Local Health District’s Students As LifeStyle Activists (SALSA) and the Sydney University’s Primary Health Care Education and Research Unit (PERU), surveyed year eight students from 23 high schools across the district. The results were disturbing, showing 50 per cent of students consuming a sugar-sweetened beverage every day. The same number of teens were also consuming sugar-rich fruit juices daily.

In particular, “Adolescents from disadvantaged areas are drinking significantly more sugar-sweetened beverages than their socioeconomically advantaged peers,” said Bridget Foley, SALSA Research and Evaluation Officer.

Perhaps more concerning is the sugar ingested in caffeinated energy drinks, which have been shown to cause a rapid increase in tooth decay.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages pose a dual threat to teen oral health, as the high sugar content feed caries-causing bacteria, while the acidic nature of these beverages further exacerbates dental erosion and risk of dental caries,” said Dr Carrie Tsai, a lecturer in paediatric dentistry at the Westmead Centre for Oral Health.

Though research has confirmed the dangers of these drinks it seems teen opinion hasn’t changed. One student surveyed by SALSA and PERU said, “I don’t have time for breakfast, but I get my energy from a can on the way to school.”

Based on the shocking results of their study, the team at SALSA are attempting to intervene and convince students to limit their sugar intake.

SALSA is “a unique peer education program which motivates high school students to make healthier lifestyle choices,” said Dr Kean-Sing Lim a founding member of the program.

While students were still found to be drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, programs like SALSA could lead to a reduction in consumption, and help limit irreversible tooth damage.

“In the SALSA program, the students talk to each other about both the long term and immediate influences of the health-related behaviours. Things like yellow teeth, acne and obesity resonate a lot more with our students to motivate them to live a healthy lifestyle than the very real threat of disease and type 2 diabetes,” said Foley.

“Initiatives that change the attitudes, eating behaviours and exercise habits of secondary students are rare, but SALSA actually works,” said Rooty Hill High School principal, Christine Cawsey who has seen a six per cent reduction in her students’ consumption of sugary drinks since joining the SALSA program.

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