Decreasing sugar consumption has a small but meaningful impact on body weight in adults.

The finding, published online in the BMJ, established that although the impact is somewhat small (an average of 0.8 kg decrease), the results give support for international recommendations to cut sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of total energy in order to address the international obesity epidemic.

Too much sugar in the diet has been associated with obesity and a greater risk of chronic illnesses. The most consistent link is a relationship between sugary drinks and becoming obese.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), consumption of “free sugars” should be lower than 10 percent of complete energy intake, however no safe upper limit has been established.

A group of investigators from the University of Otago and the Riddet Institute in New Zealand examined the outcomes of 71 studies of sugar consumption and body fatness to evaluate the evidence on the link between intake of dietary sugars and body weight in children and adults. There were 30 randomized controlled studies and 41 cohort studies.

Free sugars are considered sugars that are added to foods by the cook, manufacturer, or consumer, as well as those present naturally in fruit juices, honey, and syrups.

The researchers discovered that advice to decrease free sugars were linked with an average of 0.8 kg fall in weight, while advice recommending to increase consumption was linked with a corresponding 0.75 kg increase.

This parallel outcome may be caused by changed energy intake, because replacing sugars with other carbohydrates did not end up in changed body weight.

The proof was not so consistent in kids, because of poor compliance to diet guidelines. However, in regards to sugar-sweetened beverages, the risk of becoming overweight or obese increased among youths with the highest consumption compared with those with the lowest consumption levels.

The authors point out that because obesity has several causes, it is not unusual that decreasing sugar consumption has such a small impact and that other confounding factors could contribute to this effect. However they said, “the overall consistency of the findings, regardless of study type, is reassuring.”

They also suggest that although the data supports population based advice to cut sugar intake in order to decrease the risk of obesity, it cannot be conclusive because these study results did not last longer than 10 weeks.

But, the authors conclude, “when considering the rapid weight gain that occurs after an increased intake of sugars, it seems reasonable to conclude that advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries.”

In an editorial linked to this study, US experts suggest the link between sugar and bad health has stayed open to debate over the last several years, however mounting evidence, “points towards a role for sugar and other refined carbohydrates in the development of overweight.”

The experts touch on the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks as a top priority and point to policies such as taxes on sugar-filled drinks, limits on serving sizes, and controls on advertising to youths.

In December of 2012, a study published in PLoS Medicine established that taxes on sugary drinks and foods high in saturated fat could create health benefits.

The researchers also recommend action at school levels, educational programs, and nutrition programs for low income populations.

Just yesterday Coca-Cola announced a global advertising campaign in which they publicly confront the association between sugary drinks and obesity. It will start by helping to promote and support physical activity initiatives and inform consumers about nutritional information.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald