More Added Sugars, More Pounds?

THURSDAY March 24, 2011 -- As Americans' intake of sugars added to processed and home-cooked foods rises, so, too, does body weight, according to a study that followed Minnesota residents for 27 years.

"Added sugars and body weight are increasing concurrently," said Huifen Wang, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, in Minneapolis. She will present her findings Thursday at an American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta.

While added sugars can't fully explain the expanding girths of Americans, it's a contributing factor, she said.

While other research has looked at sugar-sweetened beverages and their effect on weight and overall health, Wang wanted to look at added sugars -- what is added to foods during processing, preparation or at the table.

"There is limited data available looking at how added sugar intake is related to body-mass index (BMI),'' Wang said. For the study, she used data collected in the Minnesota Heart Survey, a surveillance study of adults aged 25 to 74 living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Dietary intake was evaluated by 24-hour recall.

The survey looked at diet, height and weight of the participants from 1980-82 through 2007-2009. Over the 27 years, intake of total carbohydrate and added sugars rose among both men and women, while total fat intake decreased.

Added sugar consumption rose by 51 percent in women from 1980-82 and 2000-2002 and then declined somewhat, according to the research. Men followed the same pattern.

The researchers noted that weight-gain patterns kept pace with national ebbs and flows in added sugar consumption: as intake rose, so too did the average BMI of both men and women. When sugar consumption leveled off, BMI leveled off in women, but not in men, the researchers said.

Overall, men consumed about 15.3 percent of daily calories from added sugars in 2007-2009, a nearly 38 percent increase from 1980-82. Women ate 13.4 percent of total calories from added sugars in 2007-2009, up from under 10 percent in 1980-82.

Women ate less added sugar than men and younger adults aged 25 to 39 ate more than older adults did. The BMI rose across the six surveys overall, with the greatest increase in those aged 25 to 39.

Wang concluded that "public health efforts should advise limiting added sugar intake."

"Added sugar contributes to extra calorie intake," Wang said.

How much is too much added sugar? Most women should eat no more than 100 calories of added sugars a day, according to the American Heart Association. Most men should consume no more than 150 calories of added sugars a day.

The study has some limitations, said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and past president of the American Dietetic Association.

Diekman wanted more information on how total calories changed, which would help explain the BMIs creeping up. "Another concern with this study is the use of 24-hour recalls, since we know people tend to have difficulty remembering, even within 24 hours, what and how much they eat."

Even so, Diekman said, added sugars do not provide much nutrition value. She suggests switching to alternative sweeteners to get the "sweet boost."

To avoid added sugars, you have to know which foods contain them, of course. Among the foods with added sugars that come as a surprise to people: granola bars, many smoothies and some trail mixes.

The study was presented at a medical meeting, and so the results should be viewed as preliminary because they have not undergone the rigorous scrutiny that studies published in medical journals typically do.

More information

To learn more about added sugars, visit the USDA.

Posted: March 2011


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