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SUGAR ROW SUNNY SALES DROP BY 25%; EXCLUSIVE: Kick in the teeth for kids' favourite drink.

SALES of the children's drink Sunny Delight have fallen by a quarter because of its high sugar content.

Makers Proctor & Gamble reported the slump yesterday as a Government survey revealed that over half the children in the UK had tooth decay and a third had unhealthy gums.

Sunny Delight's marketing director John Bennett said: "I think it entirely probable that some of the concerns and negative publicity have had some effect on sales.

"But there was never any intention to make anyone think they were drinking orange juice."

Now P&G are to launch a "light" version of the drink, with just a tenth of the sugar and double the fruit juice of the regular bottle. Mr Bennett added: "There are parents who are concerned about the sugar in their children's diet, and now we have given them a choice."

Sunny Delight was a huge success when it was launched in 1998, with sales hitting pounds 160 million a year.

It quickly became the third-most-popular soft drink after Coca Cola and Pepsi.

But critics complained about the high levels of sugar - nearly four teaspoons in a 200ml bottle.

Many parents were shocked when they realised Sunny Delight was not a new form of fruit juice - it actually only contains just five per cent juice.

There was a second setback last December when a five-year-old girl's skin turned orange after she drank 1.5 litres of Sunny Delight a day.

P&G admitted this could happen to someone drinking "excessive quantities" because of an additive called betacarotene.

Yesterday's Government survey of more than 2,000 children aged four to 18 in the UK found that 53 per cent had evidence of tooth decay.

That rose to more than two thirds of children aged 15-18. In youngsters between four and six years old, 37 per cent had tooth decay.

Levels were highest in Scotland, where 66 per cent of youngsters had some tooth decay, and lowest in South East England, where 44 per cent of children's teeth were already rotting.

More than 35 per cent of youngsters had unhealthy gums and four out of 10 had plaque on their teeth.

Forty per cent of teenagers aged 15 to 18 were suffering from the disease gingivitis, which makes the gums bleed.

The report also discovered that children aged 11-14 ate 21g of chocolate and 15g of sweets a day, while 15 to 18 year olds devoured 6g of sweets but 20g of chocolate

Boys aged 15 to 18 gulped 337g of fizzy drinks every day, while girls drank 239g.

Two thirds of children were aware that sugary foods caused tooth decay.

And two thirds said they cleaned their teeth twice a day, with girls more likely to brush their teeth morning and night than boys.

Health minister Lord Philip Hunt said: "Most dental disease is preventable and many of the findings of the report reinforce key existing messages."

-53% of all children in the UK have tooth decay

-A third of youngsters also have unhealthy gums

-37% of four to six-year-olds are suffering tooth problems

-Worst affected are children living in Scotland, where 66% have rotting teeth
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Author:Harrison, Tracey
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 24, 2000
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