The BMJ Today: Sugar—public enemy number one?

navjoyt_ladherThe crackdown on sugar continues. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in the UK has recommended that people reduce their daily consumption of added sugar so that it makes up around 5% of the average dietary energy intake, reports Matthew Limb. As Ian Macdonald, professor of metabolic physiology at Nottingham University and the advisory group’s chairman, points out, a typical adult would reach the 5% sugar threshold by drinking one average size fizzy drink of 330 mL.

The report echoes recent advice from WHO, issued in their draft guidance on sugar intake in adults and children, which also called for people to halve their daily sugar consumption. As evidence mounts about the association between sugar intake and the risk of obesity and related illnesses, advice to cut down on sugar has become more common. Policymakers are increasingly taking steps beyond education alone to ensure we curb our intake. These include proposals to tax sugar sweetened beverages, calls for fizzy drinks to come with an obesity warning, and plans to revamp food labels so that nutritional information is clearer.

A poll carried out on in 2010 asked readers if they thought a tax on high sugar foods would reduce obesity. Readers then were evenly split on whether this would make a difference, but as the war on sugar becomes more hostile, perhaps an updated poll would have a different result.

But then again, maybe the jury is still out. We’re still working out where sugar fits in to the big picture of tackling obesity. As The BMJ‘s Trevor Jackson wrote in a blog last week: “While the case against sugar is mounting (clearly added sugar provides nothing but empty calories) can we really lay the blame for the obesity epidemic so squarely on one macronutrient?” We can’t, but it is clear that sugar is an important part of the puzzle. While salt and saturated fat have had their time at the top of the nutritional no-no list, it’s now sugar’s turn to be public (health) enemy number one.

Navjoyt Ladher is a clinical editor, The BMJ.