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17 May 2017, 07:36
Young Scots are eating more sweets than their UK counterparts, but drinking less fizzy juice than they did 15 years ago, according to an international study.
Experts found evidence of an "encouraging'' overall decline in the consumption of sweets and sugary soft drinks in the UK - but one in three Scottish teenagers still eat sweets or chocolates every day. In England and Wales, that figure stands at a quarter.
However, the study did find that adolescent Scots are taking part in more vigorous activity.
The findings are part of an international WHO (World Health Organisation) report into childhood obesity, which is being presented in Portugal on Wednesday.
The report examined the behaviours of young people in European regions over a 12-year period from 2002 to 2014.
The study, co-ordinated by Dr Jo Inchley at the University of St Andrews, found persisting inequalities and a rise in obesity among young people in Europe.
The report stated: "Healthy eating becomes less common as young people move through adolescence, with decreasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and higher consumption of sweets and soft drinks.
"Intake of free sugars, especially through sugar-sweetened beverages, is of particular concern in relation to overweight and obesity as it contributes to increased overall energy intake.''
The report concluded that, overall, daily consumption of sugary soft drinks and sweets decreased "noticeably'' over the period of the study, but intake remains high.
"Almost one in five adolescents drink sugary soft drinks daily and one in four eats sweets every day,'' it stated.
However, Scottish-specific figures show that almost 35% of adolescent boys and girls in 2014 north of the border eat sweets every day. The figure is down from almost 45% in 2002, but still equates to more than a third of youngsters.
A decline in soft drinks consumption is more marked, according to the figures. In 2002, more than 47% of Scots youngsters said they had soft drinks every day, but by 2014 that was down to 23.2%, less than a quarter.
In England, the figure had dropped from 38% to 13% over the same period.
"Those with the greatest overall decreases (@20 percentage points) were Ireland, Israel, Slovenia, United Kingdom (England) and United Kingdom (Scotland),'' the study noted.
Dr Inchley, the HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) international co-ordinator and assistant director of the Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit at the University of St Andrews, said: "Within the UK, we found an overall decline in the consumption of sweets and sugary soft drinks, which is encouraging, but a third of Scottish adolescents still eat sweets or chocolates every day, compared to a quarter of adolescents in England and Wales.
"The reductions in consumption of sugary drinks amongst young people in Scotland is good news, however, further action is required to reduce their sugar intake, particularly in light of the wide range of sugar-sweetened drinks now available and actively marketed to children and adolescents.''
While the recommended level of daily physical activity remains stubbornly low in most European countries, recent increases in vigorous physical activity among Scottish adolescents suggest that more young people may be taking part in sport in their free time.
Dr Inchley added: "These increases have occurred among girls as well as boys, reducing the gender gap in participation. Inequalities still persist, however, with lower levels of participation among young people from less affluent backgrounds.''