23 teaspoons of sugar a day…that’s the average consumption level for US children ranging in age from 2 to 18 years1. And depending on which reports you believe, this is less than what the average Australian child consumes with the most recent report (2012) putting the mark at 27 teaspoons2 and the latest report on teenaged males (aged 14-18) showing 51% consume a can of soft drink on any given day2.
So whatever way you look at it, Aussies - both young and old - consume a lot of sugar; just like their US and UK counterparts.
Sugar intake has been a hot topic in recent times and this shows no sign waning with the recent release of the most comprehensive review of evidence on the health effects of sugary drinks to date. Eminating from the prestigious Harvard School of Public Health, the study was lead by Harvard Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Dr Frank Hu and published in the October 2015 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. While the study considered all dietary sources of added sugar and fructose, it focused particularly on the effects of what they termed - sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) on various health outcomes, from a large cross section of studies.
The study included data predominantly from US studies and populations and discussed the significance of the use of high fructose corn syrup (which usually contain 42% or 55% fructose); the predominant form of liquid sugar used in SSBs in the US.
SSBs are important because in the US they are the single greatest source of calories and added sugars in the US diet, accounting for nearly one-half of all added sugar intake. What’s more, in the US, high fructose corn syrup has gradually replaced the use of sugar because it is cheaper to produce.
The other key issue addressed in the study was the differential effects of glucose consumption versus fructose consumption. What makes the issue tricky is when talking about sugar or high fructose corn syrup, fructose is always being ingested together with roughly equal amounts of glucose. This makes it very challenging to differentiate between the effects of glucose versus fructose, even though the popular view has been to demonise fructose. Nonetheless, the authors go to extensive lengths to emphasise that fructose is metabolised in a distinctly different manner to glucose which can lead to greater fat accumulation in the liver and raised uric acid and associated gout.
The study makes strong recommendations that intake of SSBs be reduced dramatically, with even one-a-day seen as too much. The authors of the study go so far as to recommend that governments consider imposing taxes on SSBs if they are serious about reducing the burden of disease caused by high SSBs intake. In fact, Brighton, a UK city has just imposed a voluntary 10 pence tax on SSBs in an effort to curb consumption. This has been backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
While the study cited US data, the little data we have on Australians suggest that their consumption of SSBs are very high (particularly in teenagers)2. So the study’s recommendations have particular relevance to the average Aussie.
In their conclusion, the study author’s make a pretty damming conclusion that specific consumption of SSBs “causes excess weight gain and is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and CVD.”1
The key difference with this landmark study is that rather than talk about sugar intake in general, it specifically points to intake of SSBs as a major risk factor for chronic disease. The simple recommendation to cut out all consumption of SSBs is highly practical for the average consumer seeking to reform their health and looking for a basic starting step.
- Malik VS & Hu FB. Fructose and cardiometabolic health. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2015;66(14):1615-1624.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, 2011-13 Australian Health Survey, cat. no. 4364.0.55.007, viewed 30th September 2015, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Media%20Release~Soft%20drink,%20burgers%20and%20chips%20-%20the%20diet%20of%20our%20young%20males%20(Media%20Release)~1