CHILDREN across Scotland are consuming almost 4.4 million sugary soft drinks every week - the equivalent of more than 600,000 a day - new research has estimated.

The figures, produced by Cancer Research UK, prompted demands for Scottish ministers to change the law to crack down on supermarket multi-buy offers on sugary drinks, many of which are sold as part of bulk buy deals.

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Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “Supermarket multi-buy deals encourage us to bulk buy, so these drinks are always within reach at home.

“And with almost a quarter of children as young as four entering primary school overweight or obese, the dreadful consequences of our diets are all too obvious.

“While the Sugar Tax was a step in the right direction, there’s much more to be done.

“The Scottish Government must take action by introducing laws to restrict the multi-buy offers on junk food and sugary drinks.

"This measure would go a long way to deterring families from stocking up on drinks that are doing so much damage to our diets.”

The charity calculated the number of soft drinks consumed by children aged two to 15 based on most recent population figures and extrapolating from responses to the most recent Scottish Health Survey, which questioned more than 9,500 households on their lifestyle habits.

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It means that an average child in Scotland is consuming five sugary-sweetened soft drinks per week, though some will be drinking far more.

A single 330ml can of Coca Cola 35g of sugar, equivalent to nine teaspoonfuls. This rises to 53g for a 500ml bottle of Coca Cola.

Since changing its recipe in response to the sugar tax, Irn Bru has reduced the sugar content of a 330ml can from 34g to 16g, and 51.5g to 24g in a 500ml bottle, although some of the old products remain in circulation.  

Excluding the naturally occurring sugars in milk and fruit, official guidelines recommend that the daily sugar intake for children aged 11 or over should be capped at 30g, and 19g for younger children.

The research covered all types of non-diet soft drinks, but also included flavoured water and diluting drinks which contained added sugar.

However, it was unable to determine from the SHS responses exactly which products children were consuming or in what portion size, so there is no estimate for overall sugar intake.

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There were 93,845 tooth extractions among under-18s in Scotland last year, and in extreme cases some young children are having all their teeth removed under anaesthetic as a result of decay.

Russ Ladwa, health and science chair of the British Dental Association, said: “Tooth decay remains the number one reason for child hospital admissions, fuelled in large part by sugary drinks.

“The sugar tax is progress, but it’s vital Scotland doesn’t follow the lead of England, where proceeds have been hijacked just to plug holes in schools budgets."

Under the sugar tax, introduced UK-wide in April this year, drinks with more than 8g of sugar per 100ml are subject to a tax rate equivalent of 24p per litre, while those containing 5-8g of sugar are subject to 18p per litre.

The Scottish Government is currently in the middle of a public consultation on the most effective ways of restricting price promotions in supermarkets and other retailers on food and drink high in sugar and fat.

Fet-Lor Youth Club in Edinburgh, which works with children aged seven to 17 in the north of Edinburgh, is supporting Cancer Research UK’s campaign.

The youth club has recently banned junk food and high sugar drinks from its own tuck shop.

Fet-Lor’s youth work manager Amy Henderson said: “At Fet-Lor we’ve been working really hard to make sure the young people who come here have access to healthy food and drink.

“They have been using our kitchen to learn how to cook using fresh ingredients and, in place of our tuck shop, we now offer every young person who attends our clubs a healthy meal, snack and drink.

“But if a young person goes to the local shop at lunchtime with £3 in their pocket and they see they can get big bottles of sugar-packed fizzy juice in a deal, well they’re going to be tempted to go for that, thinking they’re getting more for their money.”

Abigail McNab, a 15-year-old volunteer at Fet-Lor and and a pupil at Broughton High, said: “I get £4 lunch money, and my friends and I will get as much as we can for that. If we can get two bottles of cola for £1 then that makes it cheaper and we’ll club in and choose that.

"We do the same with crisps and chocolate and go for whatever’s on offer. If these things weren’t on offer, I don’t think we’d buy them.”

Gavin Partington, Director General at the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA): “These figures bear no relation to the evidence of sugar reduction from soft drinks. Kantar Worldpanel data shows overall sugar intake from soft drinks is down by 22.9% since 2014.

"In 2015, soft drinks became the only category to set a 20% calorie reduction target by 2020, and the industry has already exceeded this target.

"Between 2010 and 2017, Scottish Government figures show volume sales of regular take-home soft drinks reduced, while sales of cakes and pastries increased since 2011.”