What pushes young people into unhealthy beverages – parents, friends or environment?

By now everyone knows that drinking sugary drinks is bad. That wide-spread knowledge literally did nothing to the popularity of unhealthy beverages. Why is that? Why do people choose these drinks? Is it external influence of their friends and family? A new study from UCL looked into this question and found a surprising answer.

Environment, such as ads and social media, influences young people to favour one or another drink. Image credit: Maksym Kozlenko via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

It turns out that people chose to drink these unhealthy beverages purely on their own, sometimes this choice is just reinforced by circumstances. This can be said about all the non-alcoholic beverages. Scientists wanted to see if there is any genetic influence and so they analysed 3000 young people and their favourite drinks. It turns out, unique environment is the most important factor, while genetic background has varying role in favouring some drinks. So what is that unique environment?

If you see ads of sugary drinks every day, eventually you will start wanting to try it out. It doesn’t even matter that your friends are healthy and do not like sodas. It is the same way with tea – environment makes some people and cultures like it more than others. In other words, if you placed someone in a tradition English household, eventually he might start liking tea as his favourite beverage. However, scientists also say that early family experiences do not have such a big effect. For example, if a child sees his parents enjoying sugary drinks, he is not necessarily going to love them later in his life.

It is all about this period of adolescence. Teenagers want to experiment with their own taste and new things. Suddenly they feel free from family rules and parental judgement. That is when they develop their own views and ideas about what they should or shouldn’t drink. And so this role, previously fulfilled by family, is suddenly occupied by social media and entertainment. This is when environment becomes the most important factor in determining one’s taste to beverages. But what can we do to prevent excessive consumption of sugary drinks? Andrea Smith, lead author of the study, said: “To help teenagers reduce their sugar consumption by drinking less of these drinks it would be beneficial if the commercial strategies that target young adults are submitted to the same level of regulation as marketing strategies that target younger children”.

Experimenting is important. We want to know more and experience thing that we couldn’t before. However, the most important aspect of developing your taste is making informed decisions. Knowing what unhealthy beverages can do to you may be enough to make you think twice about asking for a refill.


Source: UCL

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