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Old Tue, Sep-29-20, 03:54
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Default New Limits Urged on Americans’ Sugar Consumption Amid Rising Obesity Concerns

New Limits Urged on Americans’ Sugar Consumption Amid Rising Obesity Concerns

Americans should get no more than 6% of their daily calories from added sugar, a federal committee recommends, down from the current 10% guideline

A federal committee’s recommendation that Americans should limit their consumption of added sugars to 6% of their daily calories—down from the current guideline of 10%—is spotlighting the growing toll of obesity on the nation’s health, and drawing pushback from makers of candy and sodas.

The guidance, from a committee’s recommendations for new U.S. dietary guidelines, aims to address rising rates of obesity and the poor quality of most Americans’ diets. Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer—and raises the risk for severe illness with Covid-19.

“One of the biggest health challenges related to nutrition in this country is overweight and obesity,” says Elizabeth J. Mayer-Davis, chair of the nutrition department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who chaired the federal committee’s beverages and added sugars subcommittee.

Most Americans aren’t even limiting their added sugar to the current 10% guideline. Nearly two-thirds of people age 1 and older consumed more than 10% of their daily calories in added sugar, according to 2013-2016 data analyzed by the committee. The mean consumption is 13%.

More than 70% of U.S. adults ages 20 and older are overweight or obese, according to 2015-2016 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 42% are obese, according to 2017-2018 CDC data. Nearly 14% of children ages 2 to 5 are obese, as are about 18% of 6-to-11-year-olds and about 21% of 12-to-19-year-olds. The subcommittee is recommending that toddlers under age 2 not consume any added sugar. These will be the first federal dietary guidelines to include recommendations for children under 2.

The new limit applies only to added sugars, found in processed foods from soda and pasta sauce to cereal and yogurt, as well as honey and sugar itself. The primary source of added sugars in Americans’ diets is sugar-sweetened beverages. A 16-ounce “grande” pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks, for example, has 50 grams of sugar, or 10% of a 2,000 calorie diet. Other main sources are desserts, candy, coffee and tea with added sugar, and breakfast cereals and bars.

The committee isn’t discouraging intake of foods that naturally contain sugar, like fruit and milk, because it says those foods provide other nutritional benefits and that most Americans aren’t eating enough of them. Overall, the committee wants Americans to eat more foods that are included in diets associated with good health outcomes—which it says are rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meat and poultry—and fewer foods linked to poor health, including sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, refined grains and large amounts of red meat. “The first concern is for people to choose a healthy diet that will promote their long-term health, growth and development,” says Dr. Mayer-Davis.

The new recommendation for added sugars is part of the process of a coming revision of the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is updated every five years. The committee released its recommendations in July; now the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will review them and issue final guidelines by the end of the year.

The dietary guidelines have a broad impact: They help dictate school lunch programs, shape state and local health promotion efforts and influence what food companies make.

Food industry lobbying groups are pushing back. The American Beverage Association, which represents drink makers including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, urged the government to keep the current 10% limit during a public meeting last month. The current limit “remains an ambitious goal,” said Maia Jack, the organization’s vice president of science and regulatory affairs, noting that beverage companies have unveiled products in smaller portion sizes and with less sugar. And she asserted that there is “no significant new science on the topic.”

The National Confectioners Association also wants to keep the 10% added sugar limit. “There was no new data raised in the committee hearings that would support” the change to 6%, said spokesman Christopher Gindlesperger.

The federal committee was made up of 20 doctors and academics. They aren’t paid for the committee work and are required to have advanced degrees and at least 10 years of experience in their fields. Anyone from the public, including food company executives and members of health advocacy groups, can nominate someone. Officials from USDA and HHS make the final selections. Ethics officials review candidates for conflicts of interest.

Dr. Mayer-Davis says the beverages and added sugars subcommittee members arrived at the new 6% limit by first modeling diets made up of healthy foods that provide necessary nutrients for a range of daily calorie levels from 1,000 calories per day to 3,200 calories per day. They calculated how many calories these healthy foods would take up for the various levels. The calories left over were “what you might call discretionary,” says Richard D. Mattes, a committee member and professor of nutrition science at Purdue University in Indiana.

For someone with a 2,000 calorie a day diet, for example, the subcommittee calculated that 1,759 of those calories, or 88%, would be taken up by healthy foods providing essential nutrients. That leaves 241 calories to be consumed as added sugars or solid fats. Based on how much Americans ordinarily consume, the subcommittee designated 133 calories, or 7%, to solid fats, and 109 calories, or 5%, to added sugars. The subcommittee settled on 6% as the general recommendation because “we weren’t trying to be unreasonable to how people eat,” says Dr. Mayer-Davis.

The subcommittee also noted that added sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, fuel obesity and raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes in adults. Obesity raises the risk for many health problems, including cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer.

“There’s no good reason to consume added sugar and there are good reasons not to,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University who was not on this year’s committee.

An easy way to cut your added sugar intake is “don’t drink your calories” by avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, says Sara N. Bleich, a professor of public health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who says the new 6% recommendation is a “very encouraging modification.” And instead of flavored yogurt, Dr. Bleich recommends buying plain yogurt and adding your own fruit.
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