A new study reveals that children who have large amounts of sugar in their diet may be at risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
The recent study looked at the calorie intake of over three hundred children and found those who consumed excessive amounts of sugar in their diets were more likely to have higher blood pressure. The report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, says the results support a hypothesis that high sugar consumption among children “may contribute to the development of poor cardiovascular health before maturity”.
The food industry has argued that sugar is not “implicated” in any serious diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However, this is just the latest research that suggests sugar may have a specific and adverse metabolic effect on the body over and above the effects of consuming too many calories.
Kenneth Kell, one of the report’s authors, said: “Added sugars in our study were associated with risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease. However, more research is needed to determine causality and physiological mechanisms.”
Dr Aseem Malhotra, science director of the campaign group Action on Sugar, said: “The sooner the medical profession and the public accept that all calories are not metabolised in the same way, the sooner we will be able to tackle the increasing burden of chronic disease.” The report has emerged after a government advisory group recommended that sugar consumption be halved to just five teaspoons a day. The group concluded that people who ate too much sugar were also likely to consume more calories overall, so there would be clear benefit in cutting sugar consumption.
Professor Ian Macdonald, who chaired the carbohydrate working group that reviewed sugar in the diet and who has advised Coca -Cola and Mars, said he had warned the two food giants that the long-term prospects for sales of sugary drinks and treats were “pretty poor”.
France has imposed a tax on soft drinks and Macdonald believes other countries are likely to introduce laws to curb the obesity epidemic.
Campaigners in Britain are calling for a sugar tax and Labour is considering a cap on sugar in children’s cereal.
Macdonald said: “Unless something positive happens to get people to change, then some governments will be tempted to try to use legislation. I am keen that this will be based on evidence rather than political expediency.”
On Thursday, the carbohydrate working group of the scientific advisory committee on nutrition proposed limiting intake of added sugar to 5% of an individual’s energy intake. It was one of the boldest public health initiatives in years and follows a similar recommendation from the World Health Organisation this year.
The new target is a blow to the sugar industry but will be hard to achieve. Some children already consume on average more than three times the new recommended amount.
Statistics from the UK’s national diet and nutrition survey show that 11 to 18-year-olds consume 15.6% of their calories from sugar, mostly from fizzy drinks, squash and fruit juice. Younger children, aged 4-10, have the second-highest sugar consumption, gaining 14.7% of their daily calories from sugar.
Food manufacturers have taken steps to reformulate products. Under the responsibility deal — a joint industry and Department of Health initiative to improve the nation’s health — companies have removed billions of calories from products.
Manufacturers, supermarkets and caterers — including Britvic, Tesco and the caterer Sodexo — say they have removed more than 10bn calories from products in a year.
Some of the biggest companies — including Coca-Cola and Mondelez International, which makes Cadbury chocolate — have reformulated products but not disclosed the number of calories that have been removed.
The total number of calories removed under the reformulation initiative is likely to be well over 100bn calories a year, but this is less than 6% of a government target to cut 5bn calories a day from the nation’s diet, or 1.8 trillion a year. Ministers say this cannot be achieved by the food industry alone and individuals must also change their diet.
The reformulation follows an initiative in America, championed by Michelle Obama, where Kellogg’s, Nestlé, PepsiCo and other companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from products between 2007 and 2012.