April 6, 2023 – A new compilation of nearly all research to date on the health impacts of sugar offers dozens of reasons to cut back now.
Researchers from China and the U.S. rounded up 8,601 scientific studies on sugar and combined them to evaluate its impact on 83 health outcomes. The studies accounted for decades of research on the topic, stretching back to the beginning of the largest electronic databases for scientific papers.
The result is a list that cites the world’s most common health problems like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, high cholesterol, cancer, and depression. The findings were published this week in the journal BMJ. Researchers looked at studies that evaluated the impacts of consuming free sugars, which means any food that contains processed or naturally occurring sugars like table sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Sugar found in whole fruits and vegetables and in milk is not free sugar.
U.S. dietary guidelines recommend getting no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugars. For a typical 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, that equals no more than 200 calories, or about 12 teaspoons. The CDC reports that the average person consumes 17 teaspoons per day, with the largest sources being sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, and snacks. (For context: one 12-ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar, according to beverage maker Coca-Cola.)
The new analysis also found links between sugary beverage consumption and other diet and lifestyle characteristics that may contribute to health problems.
“People who consumed sugar sweetened beverages more frequently were likely to ingest more total and saturated fat, carbohydrate, and sodium and less fruit, fiber, dairy products, and wholegrain foods,” the authors wrote. “This dietary pattern was also associated with more frequent smoking and drinking, lower physical activity levels, and more time spent watching television. Therefore, the role of these confounding factors should be taken into consideration when explaining the association between sugar consumption and burden of disease.”
Recommendations for limiting sugar consumption are in place worldwide, the authors noted. They concluded that more needs to be done given the known health dangers of sugar.
“To change sugar consumption patterns, especially for children and adolescents, a combination of widespread public health education and policies worldwide is urgently needed,” they said.