So-called 'sugary fizzy' drinks have been singled out as contributing to the global obesity epidemic. The soft drinks industry has been in the firing line, but it has, and is, responding positively and proactively through the development of new drinks whose ingredients and formulations aid weight reduction. Annette Sessions reports.

Very few places in the world are escaping from the current obsession with waistlines. There's been an outpouring of statistics from organisations from the WHO down which, collectively, say we're all hugely overweight and our children will predecease us as they succumb to the onset of type 2 diabetes and heart disease brought on by a diet of junk food and a sedentary lifestyle.

But already, this obesity backlash in the US has prompted a plethora of mid-cal, diet, low-carb launches across all categories of drinks from Coca-Cola's C2, Pepsi Edge, Minute Maid Light, to Tropicana's Pure Premium Essentials which includes the Light 'n Healthy range. Only last week, Denver-based Go Fast Sports & Beverage Company launched its low-sugar 20 calorie, one carb Go Fast Light, proclaiming it to be the "cleanest and best tasting light energy drink on the market."

The use of artificial sweeteners is an obvious switch to bring the calories down, but there are other interesting options, which also add functionality to the mix. One such is green tea, for long associated with weight loss and health benefits in Eastern cultures.

The German company Plantextrakt, which sees itself as a pioneer in weight management and healthy drinking, has launched a new beverage concept for slimmers based on green tea, simply called Xlim. Plantextrakt's sales director, Michael Blösser, says that the demand for green tea products has increased significantly since their health claims have been scientifically documented

There are four concepts: Water Line, a combination of plant extracts, vitamins and flavours to add to sparkling water; Boost Line for energy drinks; Fibre Line with added soluble fibres from fruit extracts and Pure Line offering a purifying and cleansing effect through vegetable extracts. Each is based on green tea, caffeine and catechins used to increase the body's basic metabolism, thus optimising the burning of fat.

Another green tea derivative introduced in May is Teavigo from DSM Nutritional Products. According to DSM, Teavigo helps to prevent overweight; it is a natural, pure and highly purified extract with the highest content of EGC - epigallocatechin gallate - the predominant catechin in green tea, offered by the company for use in beverages. At the same time, Teavigo boasts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Elsewhere, new proprietary soy isolate, Prolisse 500, is now available from Cargill SoyProtein Solutions. Prolisse 500 isolate has a high protein content which, says Cargill, makes it an ideal solution for beverage manufacturers wishing to highlight the fact that 25 grams of soy protein a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Then there is the functional sweetener, Gaio tagatose, used in the US for Diet Pepsi flavoured Slurpee. The ingredient is claimed to improve the taste of diet and low-carb soft drinks. It has no glycemic response and gives a pH stable prebiotic effect.

For one new drink, Vitaminsmart's Calorie Controller, recently launched in the UK, in addition to "carefully formulated ingredients that combine naturally to help reduce the body's craving for sugar, control the appetite and ease hunger feelings", the special ingredient is Helianthus Tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke). This helps the body to convert sugars and starches into energy more efficiently, which, in turn helps prevent storage of fat. The Vitaminsmart range of lifestyle drinks comes in conveniently sized PET bottles with sports caps for drinking 'on the go.'

Active ingredients aside, it is the inherent diversity of the soft drinks repertoire which offers passive low-cal options. Careful tweaking of recipes can produce a version for dieters. Dr Alexander Smerz, technical manager Concept Management at Döhler Group, says this is particularly true for fruit juice. "The calorific contents of the finished product can be adjusted by the nature and extent of the juice content. Low sugar fruits can contribute to the building of lighter drinks, while fruits with a 'weak' acid component can enhance the sensation of sweetness - a case of less is more."

Bottled water brands, too, have responded positively to - and taken advantage of - the obesity crisis. In France, the mineral water Taillefine, owned by Danone, for example, has a new flavoured raspberry/melon water specifically targeting slimmers. Sold in 1 litre bottles in has zero calories and contains 250mg of calcium and 50mg of magnesium.

In the US, New Orleans-based eVamor Artesian water is shamelessly promoting its slimming and functional properties. The water's source is the Abita Spring in Louisiana. Native Americans who drank from the spring believed it to have healing powers; in fact Abita means 'healing waters' in the native Choctaw tongue. The water is rich in calcium bicarbonate which, according to studies, prevents the production of a hormone calciotrol which initiates the growth of fat producing cells.