Sugar Guidelines: Listen Up, Americans


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With the rate of obesity rising every year and more than two-thirds of U.S. adults overweight or obese, the World Health Organization decided it was time to change intake guidelines.

Children's numbers show about a quarter of 2-5 year olds and one-third of school-age children (including adolescents) are overweight or obese in the U.S. About 30 percent of low-income preschoolers are overweight or obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the major culprits of all of this weight gain - according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is the over consumption of sugar.

Sugar has been called "the devil" in health food circles, mostly because of the health ramifications of over eating it, and over consumption is unreasonably common because it hides in foods that the unknowing consumer buys and never counts as sugar consumption. For those consuming sugary snacks and sodas - you're getting a double dose of sugar.

WHO says your daily sugar intake should equal just five percent of your total calories, half of what they previously recommended.

After a review of about 9,000 studies, WHO's expert panel says dropping sugar intake to that level will combat obesity and cavities. That includes sugars added to foods and those present in honey, syrups and fruit juices, but not those occurring naturally in fruits.

Dr. Francesco Branca, WHO's director for nutrition, conceded the new target was somewhat aspirational.

"We should aim for five percent if we can ... but 10 percent is more realistic," he said in a news conference on Wednesday.

Americans eat a lot more than that - the average person consumes 150 pounds of sugar per year, and surprisingly, 50 percent of the sugar we consume today comes from high-fructose corn syrup in fat-free foods like salad dressings and regular soft drinks.

So, dropping down to five percent of caloric intake means American's would have to drop two-thirds of their sugar consumption to meet WHO's suggested limit.

WHO's new guidelines have been published online and the agency is inviting the public to comment via its website until the end of March.

Many doctors applauded the agency's attempt to limit this damaging sugar frenzy many countries face.

"The less sugar you're eating, the better," said Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California and author of a book about the dangers of sugar. "If the sugar threshold is lowered, I think breakfast cereal is going to have a really hard time justifying its existence," he said, referring to sweetened cereals often targeted to children.

Earlier this week, Britain's chief medical officer Dr. Sally Davies said she thought sugar might be addictive and that the government should consider introducing a sugar tax to curb bulging waistlines. The U.K. has one of the fattest populations in Western Europe.

"We have a generation of children who, because they're overweight ... may not live as long as my generation," she told a health committee. "They will be the first generation that lives less and that is of great concern."

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