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In Ireland, 11 per cent of children in the lowest social class group reported drinking a sugary soft drink at lease once per day.
Irish teenagers have seen the biggest reduction in sugary drinks consumption in Europe, but those in lower-income families continue to drink the products at higher levels than their affluent peers, a new study has found.
The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, which was conducted across 21 countries, charted a big shift in the soft-drink habits of European youth between 2002 and 2018.
The research, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, analysed data on more than 530,000 school children aged 11, 13 and 15.
It found the daily consumption of sugary soft drinks declined in all 21 countries between these years.
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 reduction of 84.8 per cent.
Ireland’s significant decrease 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.
The research also 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 Ireland, 11 per cent of children in the lowest social class group reported drinking a sugary soft drink at lease once per day, compared with 4 per cent of children from highest social class groups.
The data was collected through nationally representative samples of adolescents who completed a standardised questionnaire at school, including a short food frequency questionnaire.
Professor Colette Kelly from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, and co-principal investigator of the study, welcomed the “substantial reduction” in frequency of consumption of soft-drinks, adding that water or milk is the healthier choice for adolescents.
“While it is positive to note the reduction, inequalities are still evident and need attention. It is clear that more work is required to address dietary inequalities,” she said.
“Specific mechanisms to target dietary inequalities include wide availability of school meals – this means that all students get the same food and thus reduces any stigma related to food support or subsidies. This is a universal means of providing healthy meals and reducing sugar consumption.”
Professor Kelly added that the study provides “high quality evidence” which calling for more effective and targeted interventions by governments and policy-makers to “tackle the effects of inequalities among young people in Europe”.
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