On average, UK sugar intake was falling, contrary to impressions given by the press, British Nutrition Foundation director general Judith Buttriss revealed at a Leatherhead Food Research nutrition forum yesterday (March 6).
“What’s not actually being recognised in all of the UK’s [press] coverage is that sugar intake is coming down,” she said. “The biggest reduction [in sugar intake] is in toddlers.”
Buttriss said toddlers’ intake had declined significantly and there had been a big drop in consumption by young children, according to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
She admitted intake was more of an issue among older children and older adults, but there had still been some progress there, she added. “So maybe the picture is not as bad as the papers make out sometimes.”
Toddlers’ sugar intake had reduced from 17% of total energy intake in 1992 to less than 12% in 2010, according to Alison Lennox, professor of public health nutrition at the University of Surrey.
“It’s also come down in four to 10-year-olds, which suggests something is happening in children’s food consumption,” Lennox said.
‘Guidance … is being given’
It was possible sugar intake in toddlers and young children had reduced as a result of the increased use of child carers, she suggested. “It’s outside of the home where they are consuming less sugar and more healthy foods. So it looks like guidance to child carers and groups is being given, which is resulting in healthier eating among their charges.”
Overall, energy consumption had reduced over the years, Buttriss and Lennox said. But this was confusing, as obesity in adults and children was on the rise. This could be a result of people expending less energy, said Lennox.
“We have to remember to look at what the data we have says and not just follow what our perceptions say,” she added. “We eat differently now and we do a lot of different things, but ultimately the issue lies in energy expenditure, not wholly on sugar intake.”
WHO retains 10% sugar intake recommendation
Meanwhile, the WHO’s sugar intake review, the outcome of which it disclosed on Tuesday (March 4), kept its 2002 recommendation that added sugars should account for no more than 10% of total energy. It was expected to cut that figure.
However, it added that reducing sugar consumption to 5% would be beneficial and warned of the dangers of “hidden” sugars.
British Sugar md Richard Pike expressed concern about the WHO's 5% conditional recommendation in a statement, claiming it “may mislead and confuse the public”.
Pike also referred to government Family Food statistics showing a reduction of almost 12% in total UK sugar consumption per capita in the past decade.
“The overwhelming body of scientific evidence is that it is the over consumption of total calories across all food groups and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles that is driving obesity rates,” he said, warning sugar was just one source of calories.
Many sugars consumed today were “hidden” in processed foods where consumers wouldn’t expect them, such as ketchup, the WHO said, referring to these as “free sugars”.
“Free sugars contribute to the overall energy density of diets … There is increasing concern that consumption of free sugars may result in both reduced intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories and an increase in total caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy diet,” it said.