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Action on Sugar

WHO calls for immediate action on sugar


• World Health Organisation advise limiting free sugars to below 10% of energy intake, ideally to 5%, for additional health benefits (approx. 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for a woman)
• Shameful lobbying by food industry threatens the health of children and adults
• Action on sugar required NOW to halt the obesity epidemic

04.03.15 Today the World Health Organisation (WHO) releases the much anticipated Guideline on Sugars Intake for Adults and Children [1]. The report recommends a maximum of 10% people’s daily energy can come from free sugars [2] and ideally no more than 5% to achieve the biggest health benefits (approx. 6 teaspoons for women and 8 teaspoons for men per day).

There is absolutely NO nutritional requirement for free sugars in our diets, therefore Action on Sugar is disappointed that the 5% recommendation is ‘conditional’ [3]. The WHO used the ‘GRADE system’ for evaluating the evidence which is useful for drug trials, but is not appropriate for the links between diet and health [4]. This has allowed the food industry to sow the seeds of doubt amongst the WHO, who have failed to come up with the strong recommendation that is so vitally needed, especially for children.

Free sugars damage health. The leading public health bodies all agree the scientific evidence is solid - hence the urgent need for public health interventions to slash sugar and thus tackle the dental health and obesity crisis.

The UK is in an obesity epidemic, and is officially the 'fattest' country in Europe, with one third of children and two thirds of all adults classified as obese or overweight. One third of UK adults have pre-diabetes [5]. A reduction in free sugars to around 5% could reduce calorie intake in the UK population and prevent people from becoming obese and developing obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, common cancers, heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, a recent study shows a clear causative relationship between sugars intake and tooth decay, down to a sugar intake of as little as 3% of calorie intakes [6].

All age groups are consuming far more sugars than even the recommended 10%: in the UK, adults are consuming over 12%, children and teenagers over 15%! [7]

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar, Queen Mary University of London
; “We have known about the health risks of sugar for years and yet no effective action has been taken – the World Health Organisation has indicated that we should drastically lower our sugar intake, it is time for the UK government, and governments around the world, to take action NOW.”

Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director of Action on Sugar and Registered Nutritionist; “These recommendations are all well and good, but until manufacturers stop hiding sugar in our foods in such vast quantities, how can we be expected to lower our intake? The recommendations need to be translated into something meaningful for the consumer. Sugars are hidden in so many of our everyday foods; we eat and drink more than our maximum recommendation without even realising it.”

Professor Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool and Action on Sugar advisor; “The WHO should be congratulated on this important first step. These are evidence-based recommendations published despite massive industry opposition. The lobbying behind the scenes resembles the tactics previously used by Big Tobacco (denials, delays, and dirty tricks, plus dodgy scientists disseminating distorted evidence).”

Professor Aubrey Sheiham, Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health, University College London says; “Tooth decay is a serious problem worldwide. Untreated dental decay of permeant teeth was the most common disease condition worldwide affecting 2.4 billion people. Evidence shows that reducing sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy would prevent decay and thereby reduce the need to go for dental check-ups ”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist and Action on Sugar advisor said; "The WHO recommendations are very welcome but without specific government action, the British public will not benefit. The WHO recommend a limit of 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for the average woman, but nutritional labelling suggests we could be consuming up to 22 teaspoons of sugar as a guideline daily amount. The fact that current nutritional advice is actually driving the twin epidemics of type 2 diabetes and obesity is an absolute scandal and the government must act to rectify this immediately."

Tam Fry, Patron, Child Growth Foundation and Action on Sugar advisor said; "On behalf of children whose teeth particularly suffer the effects of overconsumption of sugar, I am appalled that the WHO flunked the opportunity not to make a separate recommendation of 5% for them. The evidence is overwhelming that sugar destroys teeth and NHS figures show that it is the most common reason for children being admitted to hospital. Recommending a separate 5% for children would have been a bold move".

Neville Rigby, Action on Sugar advisor; "We demand action now via a pledge from whoever forms the next government to bring in effective regulation. This new recommendation is a red card warning for the confectionery and soft drinks trades to curb their appetite for profit, particularly at the expense of children's health."

Policy options to reach the 5% target, suggested by the WHO and supported by Action on Sugar, include:
• Nutrition labelling of food products
• Restricting marketing to children of food and non-alcoholic drinks that are high in free sugars
• Fiscal policies targeting foods and beverages high in free sugars
• Dialogue with food manufacturers to reduce free sugars in processed foods.


Notes to Editor
For more information contact:
● National PR - David Clarke: 07773 225516

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Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods. Action on Sugar is supported by 23 expert advisors.

1. Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children
Press release ‘WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children
2. The World Health Organisation definition of free sugars are all monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
3. It is stated in the report that ‘Conditional’ recommendations are made when there is less certainty “about the balance between the benefits and harms or disadvantages of implementing a recommendation”. This means that “policy-making will require substantial debate and involvement of various stakeholders” for translating them into action."
This new updated WHO guideline calls for further reduction of free sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy intake if possible.
4. GRADE – Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation
5. Wise Jacqui. A third of adults in England have “pre-diabetes,” BMJ 2014; 348 :g3791
6. Sheiham A, James WP. A new understanding of the relationship between sugars, dental caries and fluoride use: implications for limits on sugars consumption. Public health nutrition 2014:1-9. See
7. New National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2014) shows UK population is eating too much sugar, saturated fat and salt



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