Dr Charlotte Evans is a lecturer in nutritional epidemiology and public health nutrition at the University of Leeds.
She summed up the crisis as being “complex” and requiring a lot of people to help remedy the problem.
The questions she chose to answer were:
“The panel seem against low calorie soft drinks on grounds that they encourage sweet appetite, yet recent studies suggest they may satisfy a sweet tooth and help compliance with weight loss diet?” Nutritionist Sigrid Gibson from Sig-nuture ltd
Evans: “Our recent publication in the British Journal of Nutrition on sugar sweetened beverages and risk of type 2 diabetes found that those reporting drinking low calorie drinks were still at increased risk although the risk was attenuated.
“This could be due to mis-reporting or because people often have a mix of sugar free and sweetened drinks or because they are increasing sugar intake from elsewhere or there is a dietary pattern related to drinking sweetened drinks (artificial or caloric sweeteners). There are also neurological studies that indicate when people drink artificial sweetened drinks it does not fire the same signals of satisfaction in the brain resulting in searching for more sugar. Possibly the jury is out on this at the moment, but [there’s] lots of research in progress.”
“What evidence – if any – is there that sugar itself is linked to health problems, even if a healthy weight is maintained?” Peter Rakic, student, London Metropolitan University.
Evans: “The evidence is growing. A large cohort study in the US reports that high sugar consumption is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Jim Mann in New Zealand has published two review papers reporting increased weight gain with increased total sugar intake trials and increased markers of cardiovascular disease. The evidence for weight gain and increased risk with sugar sweetened beverage consumption is substantial and consistent in trials in adults in particular (Walter Willet’s group at Harvard).”
“If the socially deprived eat more sugar etcetera then why would you tax them further?” Dave Auerbach, Nutrition and Health Foundation
Evans: “Any tax should be carefully evaluated to ensure there isn’t an increase in health and economic inequalities. Modelling of a tax on sugar sweetened drinks done by Oxford University has reported that there is a very slight increased cost burden on people with the lowest incomes.”
“In ecological studies are the highest consumers of sugar the most obese? Think Swiss have quite high sugar consumption but not obese - maybe the physical activity factor is important here?” Ayela Spiro, nutritional scientist, British Nutrition Foundation.
Evans: “The Swiss are the thinnest nation in Europe. They have maintained an environment that is not as obesogenic as in the UK and have a strong cultural identity around traditional eating habits (my sister lived there for many years). Food is very expensive, they have small portion sizes of energy dense food, fewer opportunities to snack, shorter opening hours for supermarkets, eat less processed food (in fast food restaurants, crisps). However, the national dish contains lardons (fatty meat), cream and cheese – as they say, everything in moderation.”