Sugar industry defends its prime ingredient

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Related tags: Obesity, Sucrose, Sugar

The contribution that the common sweetener ingredient sucrose has
made to the growing incidence of obesity is the focus of a dispute
between the US sugar association and a New Zealand scientist.

In a letter published in the 21 August edition of The Lancet​, journal Dr. Charles Baker, vice president of scientific affairs for the US Sugar Association, disputed a viewpoint from Professor Jim Mann, at the University of Otago, Dunedin, in New Zealand, that obesity is linked to increased sweetener consumption.

"In his Viewpoint (Mar 27, p 1068), Jim Mann raises serious questions by not acknowledging a fundamental fact about human sucrose consumption. Loss-adjusted per-capita deliveries of sucrose for US food and beverage use have declined steadily since 1970, as obesity has increased,"​ commented Baker.

According to the sugar association, the average American consumes about nine teaspoons per day of sugar, per person.

"Charles Baker has missed the point that, although sucrose consumption has declined in the USA, caloric sweetener consumption has increased,"​ Mann replied rapidly to Baker's letter.

"An ecological assessment concludes that increasing intakes of refined carbohydrate (corn syrup) concomitant with decreasing intakes of fibre paralleled the upward trend in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the US during the 20th century,"​ he added.

The food industry has been blamed by consumer groups for fuelling the obesity epidemic. According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 300 million people worldwide are believed to be obese and 750 million overweight. Evidence suggests that obesity significantly increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions.

Rallying against Mann's viewpoint, Baker points out that by categorising all free sugars as the same, "as the viewpoint author did"​, the importance of the individual physiological responses to various sugars is ignored.

Mann refers to a joint report, an expert consultation from the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), suggesting that free sugars should be restricted to less than 10 per cent total energy, "providing further justification for a guideline to restrict sugar intake that is in place in more than 20 countries"​.

Baker's retort is one of many from a food industry that feels constantly under pressure to react to new scientific findings. Also this week, the US beverage association has hit back at new science by Matthias Schulze et al published in the 25 August edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)​ that draws a potential link between sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption and type 2 diabetes in women.

The drinks body claims it is "scientifically indefensible"​ to blame any one food or beverage for increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, "a disease which is commonly known to have multiple causes and risk factors"​.

"Neither soft drinks nor fruit juice consumption nor sugar intake are listed by the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association or the majority of published medical literature as risk factors for type 2 diabetes. This study provides no evidence to support the inflammatory allegation that sugar-sweetened beverages are a cause of type 2 diabetes."

Related topics: Commodities, Cocoa & Sugar

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