More than a third of young people in Ireland are drinking sugary soft drinks most days of the week.
Men and people from poorer backgrounds were more likely to regularly consume fizzy drinks, which are blamed for feeding the country’s growing obesity problem.
The findings will be discussed at a cross-border conference in Belfast tomorrow to mark World Obesity Day.
Dr Joanna Purdy, of the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, is expected to tell the conference that figures from the Revenue Commissioners showed that more than 400 million litres of soft drinks were consumed across the country every year.
“World Health Organisation guidelines state that free sugars should comprise less than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake while reductions below 5 per cent — around six teaspoons a day — would provide additional health benefits,” she said.
“Consuming one 330 millilitre can of a sugar-sweetened drink could take a child over their recommended daily sugar intake.”
The conference will hear that:
• More than a third of 15 to 24 year olds and more than one quarter of 25 to 44 year olds drink sugary soft drinks every day or most days.
• Fifty-eight per cent of all those aged 15 and over consume soft drinks.
• Almost half of 13 year olds surveyed said that they had had a soft drink in the previous 24 hours — 53 per cent of boys and 42 per cent of girls.
Michael Noonan is expected to announce a sugar tax in tomorrow’s budget. The finance minster has signalled that any levy would not come into force until 2018 at the earliest, coinciding with similar plans in Britain. This would avoid a pricing gap between the Republic and Northern Ireland, which could encourage people to travel over the border and buy fizzy drinks in bulk.
Plans for the sugar tax and others on salt and fat were announced by Simon Harris, the health minister, and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, the health promotion minister. The taxes form part of a new “healthy weight for Ireland” strategy aimed at preventing Irish people becoming the fattest in Europe. A World Health Organisation study this year predicted that Ireland was on course to top the obesity chart by 2030 unless changes were introduced.
The plan includes a commitment to reduce excess weight in children by 0.5 per cent every year until 2025. The policy on salt and fat will be introduced before 2018.
At the launch of the plan last month Mr Harris said that Ireland could become either the fattest country in Europe or an example of how to change unhealthy behaviour — as it had with the smoking ban.
“This isn’t all about trying to hit people with taxes and levies, it’s about trying to change behaviour and encourage change in relation to their food,” he said. “We initiated progress under smoking and tobacco initiatives; we now need to have a similar focus on alcohol misuse, on obesity and on physical inactivity.”
About 60 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children in Ireland are overweight or obese.
Minimum class times for physical education in schools will be considered to ensure children have 30 minutes of activity a day. It also proposes voluntary guidelines for maximum portion sizes in restaurants.
In Ireland the soft drinks industry is worth about €1 billion a year. The Food and Drink Industry Ireland, a business group, had argued against a sugar tax, arguing it was double taxation because VAT of 23 per cent is already applied to the products. It said that the industry was already reducing sugar content and had introduced low-calorie and low-sugar alternatives.
In August the Irish Beverage Council said that the tax would cause economic damage and would not achieve its objectives. Instead, it said, the plan would increase grocery shopping bills and business costs.