The World Health Organization (WHO) has published new guidelines suggesting that people should halve the amount of sugar they consume in order to fight obesity and tooth decay.
The guidelines, published on 4th March, recommend that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% (roughly 25 g [six teaspoons] per day) would provide additional health benefits.
Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (e.g. glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (e.g. sucrose) added to food and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juice; however, they do not include the sugars found in fresh fruits and vegetables or milk.
Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, said: “We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay. Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”
Worldwide intake of free sugars varies by age, setting and country. In Europe, intake in adults ranges from 7–8% of total energy intake in countries like Hungary and Norway to 16–17% in Spain and the UK. Intake is much higher among children than in adults.
The recommendations to reduce sugar intake to <10% of total energy are based on evidence that adults who consume less sugar have lower body weight and that increasing the amount of sugar in the diet is associated with weight gain. In addition, research shows that children with the highest intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely to be overweight or obese than those with a low intake of sugar-sweetened drinks. The recommendation is further supported by evidence showing higher rates of dental caries when the intake of free sugars is above 10% of total energy intake.
The recommendations to reduce sugar to <5% of energy consumption are presented as “conditional,” as the only studies in which sugar intake was reduced so low took place in a “natural experiment” when sugar availability in Japan dropped dramatically from 15 kg per person per year before the Second World War to a low of 0.2 kg per person per year in 1946.
The WHO guidelines can be read in full here.