The amount of sugar and calories in packaged drinks is incredible! Most standard carbonated drinks have 33 grams of sugar and about 136 calories per can (doesn’t matter if it’s Coca-Cola, Pepsi or any other brand). That’s roughly eight teaspoons of sugar. And it’s not just the usual suspects but also the drinks we commonly perceive as being ‘healthier’.
Recent research by the University of Glasgow reported by the BBC highlighted two important issues:
1. There was little awareness of the caloric content of sugared drinks
2. Individuals did not adjust their food intake to compensate for the calories in drinks, which could account for as much as a quarter of the daily recommended caloric intake.
Manufacturers would protest that the nutritional content of drinks are clearly labeled and perhaps this is where a keener appreciation of the behavioral sciences would help us understand why current labeling is not effective. The issue is one of framing mainly and reporting caloric content differently, e.g. in number of teaspoons of sugar per unit (can, cup etc) may foster greater awareness. The photo above from Africa is stark in its representation of sugar content. There is a second issue of further cognitive bias: drinks such as fruit juices are perceived as ‘healthy’ and hence the index of suspicion is lowered, to our detriment. ‘No added sugar’ may sound reassuring… until we realize that the natural sugar content is already very high.