Lack of proper drinking water but considerable exposure of beverage industry-sponsored food and drink kiosks and advertisements are forcing adolescent students to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages, consuming which may raise the risk of developing obesity and diabetes, a study has found.
The presence of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry in schools suggests that the beverage industry is capitalising on countries that have fewer enforced regulations to protect youth to access a key subgroup of impressionable consumers, the researchers said.
"Schools represent an important area of influence for adolescents," said lead author Katelyn Godin, doctoral student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
"With limited access to clean drinking water and the very visible presence of the beverage industry in schools, it's clear that being in an environment that encourages students to purchase unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverages has an impact on behaviour."
For the study, appearing in the Public Health Nutrition, the team focussed on high schools in Guatemala City, and found that students consume soft drinks an average of 2.5 days each school week.
The study suggests that the increased level of consumption of sugar-sweetened beverage could be fuelling the obesity epidemic in most developing countries.
Energy-dense beverages or the sugar-sweetened and carbonated beverages are mostly imported into developing countries via emerging markets and food franchises.
These markets and food franchises have developed strategies to increase the availability, affordability and acceptability of these beverages in developing countries. As such, most of these beverages become popular due to their convenience and lower cost per unit of energy when compared with original nutrient-dense beverages like dairy, fruit and vegetable juices.
"An initial step to addressing these problems is enforcing policies that limit the power the sugar-sweetened beverage industry has in schools, while providing students with healthy alternatives to sugar-laden, high calorie drinks," Godin added.