The majority of Australians are consuming more than the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily intake of added sugars, according to research by the University of Sydney.
A staggering 55 per cent of participants in the study consumed over the recommended 10 per cent of daily energy from added sugar, honey and syrups, and sugar in fruit juice, defined as ‘free sugars’ by WHO.
The study is based on a 24-hour recall of eating habits from a representative sample of over 8000 participants in the most recent 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey. The research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, reveals especially bad habits in children and adolescents, with 76 per cent of those aged nine to 13 years exceeding the guidelines for daily sugar intake.
“It’s concerning that we haven’t seen much of a decline in the percentage of energy from added sugar among Australians between 1995 and 2012,” said lead author and dietician Dr Jimmy Louie, Honorary Associate at the Sydney Medical School.
“For a long time, we criticised food manufacturers for producing core foods like bread, yoghurt and breakfast cereal high in added sugar, but this study shows that up to 80 to 90 per cent of our added sugar intake is coming from what should be occasional food or treats.
“As such, the focus of public health programs going forward should be on limiting foods like soft drinks and cakes, and encouraging people to swap them for better choices.”
This study follows the UK Government’s decision to put a levy on sugar-containing beverages in a bid to reduce childhood obesity.
Beginning in 2018, drinks with more than 8 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres will be taxed at a higher rate than drinks with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres. ‘Pure’ fruit juices, milkshakes and lollies will not be subject to the sugar-levy.
Local academics have praised the move.
Professor Louise Baur AM of the Children’s Hospital and Westmead Clinical School said, “I fully support a sugar levy in NSW and Australia, such as will occur in the UK. Sugar sweetened beverages should not be a part of the diet of children and young people as it contributes to poor dental health and the risk of excess weight gain.”
University of Sydney’s Dean of Dentistry Professor Chris Peck said, “Dental decay is the most common chronic disease and we are seeing a rise in this disease among children with four out of ten young children and two out of three older children experiencing it. As well, 25 per cent of adults have untreated tooth decay and it seen more in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those on lower incomes. A key factor implicated in dental decay is consumption of sugary food and drinks and it is essential that we consider a tax to curb the rise in this disease.”
President of the British Society on Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT), Michaela ONeill, believes the UK’s sugar tax should go further: “We have recently seen the government introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks but there is a failure of this to cover pure fruit juices, some of which have higher levels of sugar than soft drinks.
“Public Health England (PHE) have recognised the dangers of these hidden sugars pose to our oral health and we hope their advice is heeded by the public.”