WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake
4 MARCH 2015 ¦ GENEVA – A new WHO guideline recommends 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% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.
· Guideline on sugars intake for adult and children
Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
“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,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “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.”
The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.
Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.
Worldwide intake of free sugars varies by age, setting and country. In Europe, intake in adults ranges from about 7-8% of total energy intake in countries like Hungary and Norway, to 16-17% in countries like Spain and the United Kingdom. Intake is much higher among children, ranging from about 12% in countries like Denmark, Slovenia and Sweden, to nearly 25% in Portugal. There are also rural/urban differences. In rural communities in South Africa intake is 7.5%, while in the urban population it is 10.3%.
Reducing sugars intake to less than 10% of total energy: a strong recommendation
The recommendations are based on analysis of the latest scientific evidence. This evidence shows, first, that adults who consume less sugars have lower body weight and, second, that increasing the amount of sugars in the diet is associated with a weight increase. In addition, research shows that children with the highest intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely to be overweight or obese than children with a low intake of sugar-sweetened drinks.
The recommendation is further supported by evidence showing higher rates of dental caries (commonly referred to as tooth decay) when the intake of free sugars is above 10% of total energy intake compared with an intake of free sugars below 10% of total energy intake.
Based on the quality of supporting evidence, these recommendations are ranked by WHO as “strong”. This means they can be adopted as policy in most situations