The World Health Organization has issued draft guidelines calling for a reduction of daily sugar intake to 5% of total daily calories in order to tackle public health problems, such as obesity and tooth decay.

In recent years, there has been increasing concern regarding the consumption of “free” sugars. These are defined as sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers – such as glucose, fructose and sucrose – and sugars that are naturally present in fruit juices, fruit concentrates, syrups and honey.

The World Health Organization (WHO) say there is a worry that consumption of free sugars may cause people to eat fewer foods that contain “nutritionally adequate calories” and increase total daily calorie intake.

In the US, consumption of sugary drinks is high. Data from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that 50% of the population consume sugary drinks on any given day, while 5% consume at least 567 kcal from sugary drinks on any given day – the equivalent to four cans of cola.

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WHO have issued draft guidelines calling for a reduction of daily sugar intake to 5% of daily calories, as opposed to the current recommendation of 10%.

WHO say consumption of free sugars, particularly from sugar-sweetened drinks, may lead to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease and diabetes.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that individuals who consume high amounts of added sugar in their diet may be at increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, while other research has linked high sugar consumption to type 2 diabetes.

WHO note that they are also concerned about how the consumption of free sugars is contributing to the prevalence of dental diseases. Recent figures show that worldwide, 60-90% of school children and almost 100% of adults have dental cavities.

Current guidelines from WHO, set in 2002, recommend that free sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake each day.

The new draft guidelines offer the same recommendation, but they also suggest that reducing sugar intake to less than 5% of total energy intake each day – the equivalent to 6 teaspoons for an adult of normal body mass index (BMI) – would offer additional benefits.

The World Health Organization state:

The objective of this guideline is to provide recommendations on the consumption of free sugars to reduce the risk of NCDs in adults and children, with a particular focus on the prevention and control of weight gain and dental caries.”

This is not the only proposal to reduce sugar consumption. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a UK study suggesting that introducing a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks could help reduce obesity.

The chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, recently supported the proposal, telling the UK’s Health Select Committee that a sugar tax may need to be introduced to tackle the obesity epidemic “because we have normalized being overweight.”

With regard to the new draft guidelines, WHO will be accepting online public comments between March 5-31, 2014. During this time, a peer-review process will also be carried out.

All comments will be reviewed once the peer-review and public consultation periods are over, and if necessary, WHO’s Guidelines Review Committee will revise and clear the recommendations before they are finalized.