Turning HBSC study data into action: advancing the fight against sugar in Latvia

Manufacturers of sugary drinks tend to target their marketing at young people, and young people – particularly older boys – respond with enthusiasm. These drinks are low in nutrients and high in sugar: a single can (375 ml) usually contains 40 g of sugar. WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake, which for boys means no more than 75 g per day in total, and for girls means even less. The effects of high sugar intake on health can be seen in increasing rates of obesity, poor dental health and chronic diseases such as diabetes.

In 2004, Latvia acted on the findings of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study and other research, and took the pioneering step of introducing an excise tax on sweetened drinks. Despite corporate pressure, 2 years later it also introduced a ban on soft drinks, sweets and salty snacks in schools. As a result, the daily consumption of soft drinks fell by more than half.

The next step was to address energy drinks. In 2016, Latvia passed and began enforcing legislation banning the sale or free distribution of energy drinks to anyone under 18 years of age, and banning the targeting of children with marketing. It also made health warnings on the cans mandatory. Additional regulatory changes specified in detail the requirements of food and drink provided or distributed in schools in terms of fat, sugar and salt content, artificial additives, etc.

The HBSC study in Latvia has provided the weapons with which to fight for healthy eating habits, helping young people to improve their well-being and support their intellectual development.

More about the HBSC study

The WHO collaborative HBSC study has been a pioneering cross-national study and an invaluable resource for over 30 years, providing insights into young people’s well-being, health behaviours and social context. WHO and many others have used its findings to inform policy and practice in countries and regions across Europe, contributing to improvements in the lives of millions of young people.

The HBSC study in Latvia is led by Iveta Pudule from the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Riga. For more information, contact iveta.pudule@hbsc.org.