Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Too Much Added Sugar for Young Australians

By various experts

Preliminary research presented at the annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society suggests that intake of “added” sugars is above recommended levels for more than half of young Australians.

“There is a renewed interest in the role of foods high in added sugar on human health, especially in relation to weight gain and obesity. Research in this area is hindered in Australia because our food composition datasets currently do not distinguish between total (both naturally occurring and added during processing) and added sugars.

“Some researchers argue that there is no real nutritional difference between ‘naturally occurring’ and ‘added’ sugars. However, as Australians consume only a very small proportion of their total sugar intake as table sugar it is important to be able to assess the impact that foods high in added sugars have on overall energy and nutrient intakes.

“This project was set up to help separate added from naturally-occurring sugars in food products consumed in Australia. By applying the preliminary assessments of added sugar composition of products to the secondary analysis of the 2007 Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey we were able to produce reasonable estimates of the added sugar intake of Australian children.

“The results indicate that current diets of Australian children remain high in added sugars. They increase with age, reaching average intakes of around 90 g (or 22 teaspoons) of added sugar in teenage boys. This equates to 13% of their sugar intake from added sugars – well above the WHO recommendation of no more than 10% of energy from added sugars.

“Research in line with these preliminary assessments will help define where to focus efforts to reduce the unnecessary calorie intake of Australian children and how to educate parents to achieve such changes.”

Dr Timothy Gill is Principal Research Fellow in the Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney, and an author of the research.

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“This is very important research. It is essential to differentiate in our food consumption databases between sugars that are integral components of whole foods (such as unprocessed fruit and milk) and sugars that are added to processed foods.

“It would be especially interesting to see what proportion of ‘added sugars’ came from liquids such as soft drinks, and what came from foods, as there is evidence that sugars consumed as part of watery liquids do not contribute to satiety and are simply added on to what would normally be consumed.”

Kerin O’Dea is Professor of Population Health and Nutrition at the University of South Australia.

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“Any added sugar is unnecessary calories when many people are overweight and obese. Clearly sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials are still a problem and need to be dramatically reduced as they have no other nutrients – just unwanted calories. Nevertheless, focusing just on sugar is misplaced as for many children pizzas, pies, white bread and fast food are more of a problem than sugar, so the whole diet needs attention.”

Prof Peter Clifton is Laboratory Head, Nutritional Interventions at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, and Affiliate Professor at the University of Adelaide.

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“It is important to differentiate between added and naturally occurring sugars in foods, and people should limit added sugars to less than 10% of their total kilojoule intake.

“As we know, excessive added refined sugars (and refined starches) contribute to the risk of dental caries and provide unwanted kilojoules that may contribute to weight gain.

“Also, it's worth noting that the Australian Health Survey results will be available in 2013 and will provide additional insight into this area of investigation.”

Dr Alan Barclay is Head of Research at the Australian Diabetes Council and Chief Scientific Officer at the Glycemic Index Foundation.

Preliminary research presented at the annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society suggests that intake of “added” sugars is above recommended levels for more than half of young Australians.