Children's drinks a sugar timebomb, experts warn

Last updated at 00:08 08 July 2006

Many 'healthy' children's fruit drinks are more sugary than Coca-Cola, experts have warned.

Parents often believe that the fruit content makes the juices a healthy alternative to fizzy drinks. But in reality, popular children's drinks such as Ribena and Capri-Sun contain little fruit - but lots of sugar.

Ribena, which is billed as containing real fruit juice and being free of artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners, contains a shocking eight teaspoons of sugar per 330ml bottle. This makes it more sugary than Coke.

The blackcurrant drink, which is made by GlaxoSmithKline, also boasts just six per cent fruit juice.

Capri-Sun orange juice - which is packed in space-age freeze packs aimed at children - contains 10.8g of sugar per 100ml, while cartons of 5 Alive have up to 13g of sugar packed into each 100ml.

Coca-Cola, which is much maligned for its lack of nutritional value, contains 10.6g of sugar per 100ml - or seven teaspoons per can.

Health and diet experts accused the manufacturers of duping parents into believing the juices are healthy options for their children.

Joe Harvey, of the Health Education Trust, said: "There are an awful lot of drinks that purport to be terribly good for you that are actually very low juice drinks with huge amounts of added sugar.

"There is a very clever strand of marketing that adds the word juice to an awful lot of products which have little juice in them.

"It is not so obvious for someone who isn't aware of it or someone who doesn't carefully read labels. The details are often not easily understood and presented in very small print.

"There is no doubt there is a lot of advertising that is very deceitful. It is very difficult for the average parent to have the time and the knowledge to interpret this sort of food labelling which is not designed to be honest."

He said that such sickly drinks can lead to children developing a sweet tooth - and affect their eating habits for years to come.

"They are producing something which mimics and habituates a sweet taste in a child but gives them nothing in return."

Sugary drinks can also cause tooth decay, weight gain - and may even put children off eating real fruit, which isn't as sweet.

Mr Harvey warned: "We are going down the road to very overweight and obese kids at a rate that is very scary and accelerating all the time."

The British Nutrition Foundation advises children swap fruit drinks for water, milk, or small quantities of pure fruit juice.

Nutritionist Brigid McKevith said: "It is about habit forming and trying to get children to plant healthy choices early on. Trying to instill that at an early age is very important."

The drinks companies defended their products, saying nutritional information was clearly displayed.

GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Ribena, said the drink is aimed at adults rather than children.

It added that a low-sugar variety was also available.

Coca-Cola, which makes both 5 Alive and Capri-Sun, said: "We are committed to ensuring product nutrition information is clearly and attractively communicated to enable consumers to make informed dietary choices.2

The spokesman added: "Capri-Sun can play a nutritious role in a child's overall drink intake.

"Our research shows that kids enjoy Capri-Sun as it gives them the hydration they need with a great taste and the energy to be active. Mums know that there are no preservatives and no arguments to get kids to drink it."