WHO is considering lowering the recommended daily intake of free sugars from 10% of total caloric intake to 5% amid growing concern about sugar’s contribution to obesity and dental diseases.
CAOBISCO, whose members include Mars, Mondelēz International and Nestlé, was invited to comment on the draft WHO Guideline on Sugars Intake for Adults and Children, published on 5 March 2014.
“We believe that before a recommendation to further reduce free sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy can eventually be made to consumers, this complex matter requires further scientific substantiation and the full engagement and collaboration of the many stakeholders concerned,” it said.
‘Consider EFSA opinion’
Free sugars or added sugars
Added sugars are any sugar added by manufacturers during processing. Free sugars include added sugar but also naturally present sugars in certain products like honey, syrups and fruit juices - where the processing of these products releases some of the natural sugar in to the product.
Sabine Nafziger, secretary general of CAOBISCO, told ConfectioneryNews: “For us, the scientific basis is a very important issue and we base our science on the 2010 EFSA opinion.”
“What that scientific opinion tells us is that there’s not enough scientific evidence to set a level of recommended intake for sugars.”
The 2010 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion said that although a high intake of sugar-containing foods could increase the risk of dental caries, there was insufficient data to set an upper limit for added sugar intake.
The science behind WHO’s draft guidance
The WHO’s public consultation ended on 31 March. It is now considering all comments through a peer-review process. The draft guidelines will be revised if necessary and cleared by WHO’s Guidelines Review Committee before being finalized.
The BMJ study was a meta-analysis that linked added sugar to an increased Body Mass Index (BMI) based on a review of 30 trials and 38 cohort studies.
The paper in the Journal of Dental Research analyzed 55 studies in a systemic review and concluded that added sugar consumption to less than 5% of total calories significantly reduced incidence of dental caries.
Action on Sugar: ‘evidence is overwhelming’
Kawther Hashem, a nutritionist for campaign group Action on Sugar said: “The evidence is already overwhelming in our view. It is clear that sugar is an unnecessary source of calories and a major cause of caries, which is the commonest disease affecting mankind.”
She said the gold standard for research were randomized clinical trials, but said it was costly and almost impossible to keep trial subjects on a high-sugar for a long-period of time.
“Nevertheless the obesity crisis is compelling enough to warrant the WHO to recommend a reduction to less than 5% of energy intake from sugar as a cautionary measure to safeguard future populations from a further increase in obesity and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).”
What does the US National Confectioners Association say about WHO sugar guidance?
The US National Confectioners Association (NCA) has dismissed any links between confectionery and obesity and dental carries. “Any fermentable carbohydrate left on your teeth will cause cavities. Some candies are a little stickier, but there’s no indication that there’s any increase in cavities because of the consumption of candy,” NCA president Larry Graham told us in February. He also said that current WHO sugar guidelines of 10% were not supported by science.
Single serve bars max out 5% guidance
Should the WHO lower its guidance to 5% it could have a major impact on the industry as many popular single serve products contain more free sugars than the proposed level.
The WHO’s latest 5% advice equates to around 25 g of sugar a day for an average sized adult.
Mondelēz International’s single-serve Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the UK contains 25.5 g of sugar; a Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar in the US contains 24 g of sugars, while a UK Mars bar has 30.4 g.
Nafziger said that the industry would welcome partnerships with the WHO and national bodies to find solutions. She said it was up to individual companies to decide on approaches such as small portion sizes or reformulation.