POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Sugar and Health

Published Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sugars can be added to food and drinks or occur naturally in fruit, vegetables and milk. A high sugar diet increases the risk of tooth decay and weight gain, and high consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with type 2 diabetes. This paper describes trends in sugar consumption in the UK, the public health implications and outlines policy options.

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Sugar consumption, and its links to a range of health conditions have made it a long-standing focus for policymakers in the UK and internationally. The World Health Organisation recently published a guideline on population level consumption limts, to enable countries to translate their recommendations into national dietary guidelines. In the UK, a government committee advising the Department of Health is undertaking a similar exercise; its report on carbohydrates and health is expected later in 2015. In a draft report released in 2014, the committee suggested that it is considering revising down the daily average recommended sugar intake from the current 10% of daily energy intake to 5%, which is equivalent to about six teaspoons of sugar (96 calories).

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • All age groups consume more sugar than the Government’s recommended daily limit (10% of daily energy intake).
  • There is concern about the negative impact of this level of consumption on public health, notably tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

  • Government policy to improve diet and health includes voluntary industry pledges to reduce calories in products (including lowering sugar content), provide better labelling, supported by education campaigns to help people to make healthier choices.

  • The food industry is supportive of, and engaged with the Responsibility Deal. However this policy has been criticised as ineffective, with calls for regulation instead.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0493

Authors: Sarah Bunn; Daniel McDowell

Topics: Consumers, Diseases, Health education and preventive medicine, Medicine, Regulation, Science

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.