Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Questions (664)

Jennifer Whitmore


664. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Health to outline the analysis his Department has carried out to date with regard to the health effects that consumption of sugar and high-caffeine drinks have on children in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2910/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax commenced in May 2018. As part of the preparation for the introduction of the tax, a Department of Health Working Paper from October 2016 outlined the Health Rationale, Options and Recommendations in relation to the proposed tax. This Working Paper found that a strong medical consensus supported the association between obesity and the consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened drinks. The paper reviewed the existing evidence in relation to “free sugars” and obesity and found that liquid carbohydrate, rather than in the solid form, contributes disproportionately to weight gain, and that the association between sugar-sweetened drink consumption and weight gain has been found to be stronger than for any other food or beverage. The paper also highlighted that consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in early-life (from conception to five years of age) was a factor associated with later overweight and obesity. The Working Paper also examined the increasing levels of consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among children in Ireland, as evidenced by studies such as the Health Behaviours in School aged Children (HBSC) and National Children’s Food Survey reports. Additionally, the paper examined tooth decay and noted that there is consistent evidence that tooth decay is lower when sugar intake is low.

In addition, safefood has carried out a number of studies on Energy Drinks. Its 2016 report “Energy Drinks in Ireland – A Review” referred to conclusions by the European Food Safety Authority that for children and adolescents, the information available is insufficient for calculating a safe level of caffeine intake. The report also noted that caffeine consumption in children and adolescents has been reported to have a negative effect on neurological and cardiovascular systems and to create a physical dependence. A 2019 UK study found that children who consume caffeinated energy drinks on a weekly basis are more likely to experience low psychological, physical and educational wellbeing than those who consume them less frequently. In 2019 safefood carried out a further study “A Survey of Energy Drinks on the Island of Ireland” in the context of the introduction of the Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax.

Safefood also continues to keep under review the available data on the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and on their health effects. In 2020 safefood produced an evidence document reviewing the evidence from 2018 to 2020. This noted reduced levels of consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, as evinced by the 2018 HBSC study published in 2020 and the National Children’s Food Survey II published in 2019. The document also referenced a number of recent international studies reiterating the negative health impacts of high levels of consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Question No. 665 answered with Question No. 490.