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Sweet, sugary fizzy drinks are loved by children – and more than a few adults too. We all know they’re unhealthy, but how many of us are aware of what actually goes into the average soft drink? Additives, preservatives and caffeine can be found in many of the most well known brands, all of which can be potentially harmful if consumed in excess. Pure fruit juices and smoothies are a good alternative.

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Sweet and damaging

The average person consumes four pints of liquid each day. In the UK, around 20 per cent of this is in the form of soft drinks, with the volume slowly rising. High consumption of soft drinks means that other, healthier drinks are being replaced. Apart from the water, there is very little in soft drinks that is even vaguely beneficial.

Whether still or fizzy, off-the-shelf soft drinks can contain the equivalent of up to 15 cubes of sugar – well over half the recommended daily maximum. This can lead to dental cavities and other health problems associated with high intakes of sugar. The acids in many soft drinks (found in both ordinary and no-sugar varieties) can also cause tooth decay and erosion of the hard enamel on the surface of the tooth. Research has found that dental erosion as a result of drinking acidic drinks and other sources affects about 30 per cent of 13-year-olds. Even Ribena’s ‘tooth-kind’ drink failed dental tests carried out in two different studies.

All soft drinks given to children should be diluted to avoid tooth decay, given with meals if possible and in cups rather than bottles, as sipping drinks causes greater damage.

Other nasties

It’s not just the sugar in soft drinks which can cause health problems. Caffeine, found in many fizzy drinks in varying levels, is addictive and can cause hyperactivity, disrupted sleep and withdrawal symptoms in children and adults. In Glasgow, a survey found an unusually high level of orofacial granulomatosis – an oral version of Crohn’s disease, which has been linked to a sensitivity to preservatives and flavourings in carbonated soft drinks.

Research in the US has also found links between cola consumption and kidney stones in men. Artificial sweeteners – such as those found in many diet and no-sugar drinks – have also been linked to a number of health problems, although research has yet to prove any conclusive links.

Confused identities

Although the Libby’s brand is no longer actually produced by Nestlé, it still owns the brand name. Hanover Acceptances’ subsidiary, Gerber Foods – the new licensee of the brand – has an agreement with Nestlé for the Libby’s name, and consequently Baby Milk Action still lists Libby’s in its Nestlé boycott information, because Nestlé still profits from it. This licensing agreement also applies to other ex-Nestlé brands Um Bongo, Libby’s C and Jusante. The Nestlé logo is now absent from all packaging, meaning that people may have been unwittingly buying Libby’s brands believing them to be dissociated from the Nestlé empire.


Soft drinks are likely to come in aluminium or steel, glass, plastic bottles or cartons. The volume of packaging used each year is staggering. We use around 6 billion aluminium cans, 225 million plastic containers (mostly plastic bottles) and 6 billion glass containers annually. Less than a third of steel and aluminium cans and only 5 per cent of plastics are recycled in the UK, the remainder being landfilled or incinerated. Glass is the best option, as it can be recycled indefinitely.

Where’s Your money going?

In April 2009, Innocent, the defiantly noncorporate maker of fruit smoothies, juices and veg pots, finally lost its innocence after selling a 10-20% stake to low-scoring US giant Coca-Cola (for around £30m), in 2010 this increased to a majority holding of 58% and in 2013 Coca-Cola increased their stake to over 90%. Innocent joins alumni which include ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, which sold up to Unilever and Cadbury, which took over the organic chocolate company Green & Black’s.

Ethical Comparison – Soft Drinks Rankings Detailed Table

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Sunnyhaye, Whole Earth Cola, Libby’s, Britvic, Irn Bru, Purdey’s, Robinsons, Schweppes, Smoothiepack, Virgin Cola, Vimto, Sunny Delight, Innocent, Pepsi, PJ Smoothie, Tropicana, Coca-Cola, Ribena

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