Now that December is upon us and we are sliding comfortably into the holiday season, sweets tend to become more present in our diet. But a new paper published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology looks at the global diet and concludes that, overall, it is getting sweeter, posing health risks.

Spoonful of sugarShare on Pinterest
After analyzing global nutritional datasets, the researchers found that patterns of sales of sugar-sweetened drinks are rising in terms of calories sold per person per day.

The paper is led by Prof. Barry M. Popkin, from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and Dr. Corinna Hawkes, from City University London in the UK.

Previously, Medical News Today investigated how much sugar is in our food and drink, noting that added sugar intake can cause obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The authors from this latest paper add stroke to that list. They say that 68% of packaged foods and drinks in the US contain caloric sweeteners, 74% contain both caloric and low-calorie sweeteners, and only 5% are made with just low-calorie sweeteners.

Although the general population has increasingly become aware of the negative health outcomes linked to added sugars, Prof. Popkin notes that added sugar can come from hundreds of “different versions” of sugar.

He and Dr. Hawkes analyzed global nutritional datasets and discovered that patterns of sales of sugar-sweetened drinks are rising in terms of calories sold per person per day, as well as volume sold per person per day.

They say their results suggest that without a public health intervention, the rest of the world will move toward consuming similar amounts of added sugars in their packaged foods and drinks as is currently the case in the US.

“Consumption is rising fastest in low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania,” the researchers say.

They add that Latin America, North America, Australasia and Western Europe are the areas with the highest consumption currently. However, in the latter three areas, intakes are beginning to decrease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) are promoting initiatives to reduce sugar intake and have published a sugar intake guide for both adults and children in an effort to reduce major health risks.

Additionally, many governments have put policies in place to lower sugar consumption, including taxation, reduced availability in schools, restrictions on marketing of sugary foods to children and public awareness campaigns.

For example, Mexico, Finland, Hungary and France have all put taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and these countries have seen decreased consumption as a result.

The authors note that they have “shown from trends data that consumption seems to be decreasing in countries with taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages,” and add:

WHO, major scientific bodies, and most countries recognize the importance of reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to improve public health. The evaluation of not only sugar taxes, but also new marketing controls and front-of-pack labeling, is important and represents one of the next frontiers – namely, can these policies effectively reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and intake of total added sugars?”

Prof. Popkin and Dr. Hawkes say that while the evidence that these policies are effective demonstrates that this is a move in the right direction, they add that governments should look at them as a learning process and continue to evolve.

They add that policy makers currently face the challenge of a lack of agreement on the healthiness – or lack thereof – of fruit juices and beverages that contain low-calorie sweeteners.

Though research suggests fruit juice may confer adverse health effects as a substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, and other studies suggest low-calorie diet sweeteners have positive effects, there is not currently a consensus that favors either type of beverage as a potential substitute.

MNT previously investigated whether or not we should eliminate sugar from our diet.