Cutting down on sugar should be part of a global strategy to tackle the obesity epidemic, says a study commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The finding is based on an analysis of 8,000 trials and 10,000 cohort studies by Lisa Te Morenga and Jim Mann from Otago University's Department of Human Nutrition and Edgar National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity research, which provides evidence that cutting down on sugar has a "small but significant" effect on body weight. Otago University is New Zealand's oldest varsity.
The WHO has previously recommended that intake of "free sugars" should be less than 10 percent of total energy intake. Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices, the British Medical Journal reports. The WHO asked the Otago-led group to analyse the results of controlled trials and cohort studies of sugar intake and body fatness and review the evidence on the association between consuming free sugars and body weight in adults and children, according to an Otago statement. Results show that reducing free sugars in diets has a small but significant effect on body weight in adults, an average reduction of 0.8 kg. Increasing sugar intake was associated with a corresponding 0.75 kg increase in body weight. This parallel effect, they suggest, seems be due to an altered energy intake, since replacing sugars with other carbohydrates did not result in any change in body weight. The evidence was less consistent in children, mainly due to poor compliance with dietary advice. However, for sugar-sweetened beverages, the risk of being overweight or obese increased among children with the highest intake of sugary drinks compared with those with the lowest intake. "Reducing the amount of sugar in drinks deserves special attention because of the strength of the evidence and the ease with which excessive sugar is consumed in this form," the study authors wrote.