“Sugar Awareness” Awarenesss


Back in July, this image was shared on the Facebook page of Natural Child World Magazine.

Board depicting several beverages, with bags of sugar hung below them.

“Sugar Awareness: This should be displayed in every school. What do you think?”

Browsing through their content, NCW seems to predominantly publish fluffy pieces about how lovely it is to be a parent. But they do seem to have something of a bee in their bonnet about sugar.

In itself, this is reasonable. Sugar is likely a contributing factor to rising obesity, especially childhood obesity, and reducing it could plausibly help with that. But the image itself raised a few red flags for me.

It depicts what looks like a display in a school, with several popular drinks cable-tied to a backing board. Below each drink is a transparent plastic bag, which appears to represent the amount of sugar in that drink. As best I can tell, the drinks are 1) a bottle of water, 2) a carton of chocolate milk, 3) a carton of pineapple squash, 4) a can of orange juice, 5) a can of Red Bull, 6) a bottle of lemon iced tea, and 7) a can of Coca Cola. NCW captioned this “Sugar Awareness: This should be displayed in every school.”

Mostly notably for me, the volume of sugar presented as being in the can of Coke seems to exceed the volume of the can itself! I know Coke is notorious for its sugar content, but that seems rather over the top.

So what do you do if you’re me and you see an image like this? Well, of course, you go to the shops, and figure out for yourself how much sugar is in each drink. I wasn’t always able to buy the exact same product, but I’ve done the best I can to match.

Product Sugar (per container) Sugar (per 100ml)
Water 0g 0g
Choc Milk 35g 11g
Juice Box 22g 11g
Orange Juice 30g 10g
Red Bull 28g 11g
Iced Tea 23g 4.5g
Coca-Cola 35g 11g

There were a couple of notable things here. First, the chocolate milk contains the about the same amount of sugar as the can of Coke, in stark contrast to the “Sugar Awareness” image, which depicts the milk as containing a fraction of the amount.

Secondly, the amount of sugar doesn’t really vary that much between the drinks at all. In fact, looking at the amount of sugar per 100ml, they are all more or less the same, except the water (which has no sugar), and the tea (which has half the amount of everything else). It’s almost as if this 10g/100ml figure is (no pun intended) a “sweet spot”, with enough sugar to be tasty without being sickly.

my-board

So I made my own version of this board, with bags containing the actual amounts of sugar found in the containers above them.

Looking at my reproduction. it’s quite obvious that the original photo has massively exaggerated the amount of sugar, not just in the Coke, but in all of the drinks other than the water.

Since I first spoke about this on the Skeptics with a K podcast (subscribe now, available on iTunes and Stitcher) I’ve been able to figure out the captions below the drinks, which seems to be gram figures for the sugar in each drink.

Product Sugar (mine) Sugar (caption)
Water 0g 0g
Choc Milk 35g 11g
Juice Box 22g 24g
Orange Juice 30g 27g
Red Bull 28g 27g
Iced Tea 23g 36g
Coca-Cola 35g 39g

What’s interesting about this for me is that their numbers are actually more or less correct. Their iced tea has far more sugar than the one I bought, and their chocolate milk far less. Having checked the specific nutritional information for Nestea online, their figure actually seems to be about right.

Our chocolate milk figures are very different, but perhaps that brand of milk has different sugar content, or perhaps they used the 11g/100ml figure by mistake?

But why is the amount of sugar in each bag so vastly different to the figure listed below the bag?

It’s possible the sugar bags were only ever supposed to be a graphic representation, like those daft business presentations which make bar graphs from clipart of cars (or whatever.) Perhaps this was never meant to depict the actual amount of sugar in the drinks above? If that’s the case, it really doesn’t come across, nor is it how people are interpreting the image.

Whatever the case, the original photograph is certainly misleading, even if not deliberately so.

At the time of writing, the picture has had almost 86,000 likes and half a million shares. That’s a lot of people potentially getting the wrong idea. Fighting the good fight against childhood obesity is a laudable thing to do, but we shouldn’t allow people to be misled just because it helps get our point across.

I’m looking at you, Jamie Oliver.

  1. #1 by Patrick on November 14, 2015 - 17:06

    That looks smaller than my can. My soda has 355mL and 40g of sugar. Odd. It’s not a Coke a Cola though it’s an American rip off of Dr Pepper called DR B. Well more accurately a rip off, from an HEB which I think are only in Texas and some in New Mexico I guess.

  2. #2 by JC Carter on December 5, 2015 - 21:36

    The value for chocolate milk will be the added sucrose rather than the intrinsic lactose – as intrinsic/extrinsic sugars are classified differently by the public health folk.

    Coke varies modestly by market depending on the sweetener they use (sucrose vs HFCS) etc.

    The content of sucrose in their bags are functionally retarded

  3. #3 by Jamie on January 15, 2016 - 07:34

    Just a note- while I agree with your article about the misleading and incorrect original image, your comment about the amount of sugar vs size of the can doesn’t take into account that they aren’t using cane sugar to make the soda, only to demonstrate on the display. Even if they were, that amount of sugar could easily be dissolved into the amount of water that fits into a can, in fact you could dissolve double (or more) that amount of sugar into water when heated.

  4. #4 by Steebs on October 2, 2016 - 13:16

    You know, instead of worrying about all the sugar in foods, how about surgically removing the phone, x-box, PC, etc etc etc from the hands of kids, and send them out to play and get some exercise.

    AND, we could actually be bothered to get our asses of our seats and cook nutritional foods, and make healthy packed lunches for our kids, instead of putting take-away down their throats

    Maybe that way we wouldn’t have fat kids

  5. #5 by stewart eastman on December 22, 2016 - 18:10

    It is an extremely sad reflection on public gullibility that this photo has continued to be passed around countless times around the world. This despite that it has no traceable source and seems to be a kid’s school project. Thank you for putting some detail into why it is an obviously wrong and misleading display. I’ll also note that clearly it was a deliberate attempt to mislead or it would have included unsweetened iced tea and any number of non-sugar sweetened beverages which have near zero sugar.

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