Fizzy drinks really are fuelling the obesity epidemic - among both children and adults, according to new research.
A review of 30 studies involving almost a quarter of a million people found almost all found a link between piling on the pounds and the ‘empty calories’ in the beverages.
The findings come a few months before the Government’s ‘sugar tax’ comes into force.
Britain has been dubbed the ‘Fat Man of Europe’ with more than a quarter of adults obese and over a third overweight.
One in three children are overweight hy the time they leave primary school, and fifth obese.
The study, published in the journal Obesity Facts, found consumption of fizzy drinks is a major factor. It said countries that have not already done so should take action to reduce their popularity.
Britain is actually leading the way in Europe. The March 2016 Budget surprise was a new levy that will add 6p to a can of Fanta or Sprite, and 8p to a can of Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
Dr Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, of University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland, said: “The evidence base linking SSBs with obesity and overweight in children and adults has grown substantially in the past three years.
“We were able to include 30 new studies not sponsored by the industry in this review, an average of 10 per year. This compares with a previous review that included 32 studies across the period 1990-2012.”
She added: “This new, more recent evidence suggests that SSB consumption is positively associated with obesity in children.
“By combining the already published evidence with this new research, we conclude something that in many ways should already be obvious: public health policies should aim to reduce the consumption of SSBs and encourage healthy alternatives such as water.
“Yet to date, actions to reduce SSB consumption in many countries are limited or non-existent.”
Of the 30 studies included - 20 in children and 10 in adults - almost all (93%) connected fizzy drinks with overweight and obesity.
Just two, one in children and the other in adults, showed no association. The latter that randomised individuals to replace them with water and receive education counselling or have counselling only, still found the intervention led to more weight lost. But the result was just outside statistical significance.
A total of 244,651 study participants were included in the studies with 33 percent carried out in Europe, 23 percent in the US, 17 percent in Middle or South America, 10 percent in Australia, seven percent in South Africa and the remaining 10 percent in Iran, Thailand and Japan.
The researchers said it is almost impossible to conclude with absolute certainty a direct cause-and-effect relationship between fizzy drinks and overweight and obesity.
But Dr Farpour-Lambert, president elect of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) which publishes the journal, said: “Associations between SSBs and body weight measures might be affected by other diet and lifestyle factors.
“But the majority of the prospective cohort studies adjusted for these possible confounding factors including several nutrition and lifestyle factors, and for all, except for one study, a positive association between SSB consumption and overweight/obesity was found. This suggests an independent effect of SSBs.”
Dr Maira Bes-Rastrollo, of the University of Navarra, Spain, said: “Numerous countries across the world have high levels of SSB consumption, and even those with low intakes are observing sharp increases.
“Therefore, the combined evidence published before and after 2013 confirming SSBs have adverse effects on body weight gain or obesity in children and adults provides a rationale for urgent policy action.”
The authors point to the success of higher taxes on SSBs in Mexico, where sales have fallen by 12 percent, most sharply in the poorest parts of the population where they have plunged 17 percent.
Added Dr Bes-Rastrollo: “Various countries have now established and implemented approaches focusing on the reduction of SSB intake by limiting its availability, increasing market price, raising public awareness through education programs via the media or at school, introducing tax policies, and improving labelling.”
A report from Euromonitor International indicates that to date, 19 countries have so far introduced taxes on food and drinks and that more aim to do so in the near future.
The target is to reduce sugar consumption by 20 percent in accordance with the World Health Organisation guidelines.
The researchers say new and innovative strategies are needed to reduce fizzy drink consumption.
Dr Farpour-Lambert said: “There is no doubt that we can reduce the consumption and impact of SSBs, but we need both the political will and the cooperation of the beverages industry to achieve it.
“One successful and feasible example of a gradual reduction strategy is the UK salt reduction program.
“The food industry has gradually decreased the quantity of salt added to processed food over the past decade. In this program, incremental salt reduction targets were set with a clear timeframe for the food industry to reach them.”