Sugar not the sole cause of obesity: AB Sugar

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers are calling for sugar to represent no more than 3% of total dietary energy intake
Researchers are calling for sugar to represent no more than 3% of total dietary energy intake

Related tags Sugar Nutrition

British Sugar owner AB Sugar is fighting back against anti-sugar campaigners with the launch of a campaign informing people about sugar’s role in a healthy balanced diet.

In ‘Making Sense of Sugar’ launched today (September 17), AB Sugar claimed the long-term campaign was based on robust science and was aimed at debunking the “myths around sugar and obesity”​ and informing people’s choices about what they consumed. It kicked off with the launch of the​ website.

The launch came as new research suggested sugar intake targets should be slashed to no more than 3% of energy intake. That’s less than the 5% suggested in draft proposals from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). That proposal is already half the 10% figure used in health guidance.

The research is co-authored by Professor Philip James, nutrition expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Professor Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of dental public health at University College London’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health. Both are reportedly supporters for the Action on Sugar (AoS) campaign group.

Tooth decay

Published in the BMC Public Health​ journal, the analysis said the further reduction was necessary to combat tooth decay.

AB Sugar’s campaign would inform people about sugar in a simple, straightforward and informative way, it said. It is designed to help people better understand the link between the energy (calories) they consume versus the energy (calories) they expend.

“Calories come from all sources and just aiming at one particular ingredient is probably confusing and may not deliver what people want, which is a reduction in calories,”​ said Dr Julian Cooper, head of food science at AB Sugar, whose subsidiary British Sugar owns the Silver Spoon sugar brand. “Sugars have a role to play in the diet providing a wide variety of different foods that we can eat.”

Confusion behind sugars

AB Sugar communications manager Sharon Fisher said: “We’ve launched Making Sense of Sugar to inform and educate people about sugar. Our research has found that there is much confusion around health and obesity, especially where sugar is concerned.”

AB Sugar has commissioned an independent report for the campaign in partnership with 2020Health, exploring policy solutions to the obesity epidemic, to be launched in a few weeks.

“This campaign forms part of a long-term, sustained investment from AB Sugar and, as a responsible business, reflects our commitment to help tackle the UK’s obesity challenge,”​ said AB Sugar ceo Mark Carr.

Cooper acknowledged that obesity levels in the UK continued to rise. But he cited data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and elsewhere indicating consumption of total sugars had fallen by almost 12% per capita in the past decade. “We can’t show an absolute figure, but it does show a downward trend in consumption for ​[calories and sugar].”

Under-reporting of sugar intake

However, SACN’s recent draft report on carbohydrates and health, and comments by others, question such claims. SACN issued revised sugar consumption guidelines, drawing on research noting that under-reporting was a well-recognised problem for dietary data collection.

SACN proposed changing target intakes for ‘free sugars’ – added sugar not occurring naturally in food – to 10% of total energy intake, aiming for a population average intake of about 5%. But anti-sugar campaigners have called for even bigger reductions.

AoS claimed SACN’s report was based on National Diet and Nutrition Survey data for sugar intakes, which “highly underestimates actual intakes”​ of free sugars. AoS argued free sugars should provide less than 5% for individuals as the maximum upper limit for intake. The latest research from James et al​, will increase pressure to reduce targets further.

However, referring to the SACN proposal, Cooper said: “It would be difficult to achieve that level of ingestion of free sugars when you look at what actually is in the diet.”

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No clinical trials support sugar reduction

Posted by PhilT,

There is no evidence that substituting sucrose for (say) starch in the diet at typical intake levels has any effect on obesity.

When we have 5 quality randomised control trials in humans to demonstrate an evidence base we might consider action on sugar as appropriate, but for now it's just politics and hysteria rather than science.

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Sugar intake

Posted by David Ralph,

I agree totally that sugar is one of the causes of obesity (along with over consumption of fats and general lack of exercise). However, its the education to the general masses that is far more important than trying to set limits that are not always achievable. Whatever limits are set, if a person wants to eat sugary, fatty foods (because they taste so good), then that person will eat more of the food available in order to get their 'food high'. Then a vicious circle starts and the end result is the same - rising obesity. Educate that same person correctly, and they will moderate their desires and maybe make a few lifestyle changes that enable them to still get a 'food high', but in a controlled fashion. End result - obesity still exists, but is on the decline.
Maybe a campaign similar to that used on cigarette packets will have a stronger impact than 'traffic light systems' or the like. The message " the sugar in this bottle may lead to heart disease and diabetes" may make people choose more wisely.

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