Co-authors of a University of Otago study on the health effects of sugar Simonette Mallard (left) and Lisa Te Morenga hope their study will lead to regulation of foods high in sugar. Photo by Craig Baxter.
A University of Otago study into the health effects of sugar
is set to be used as part of the basis for international
guidelines on sugar intake.
The study, commissioned by the World Health Organisation
(WHO) and published yesterday in the British Medical Journal,
found cutting down on sugar had a small but significant
effect on body weight.
It has already received a ringing endorsement from United
States nutrition experts, who have backed its findings in an
editorial also published today in the journal.
Study author Dr Te Morenga said the study was being used by
the WHO as part of the evidential basis for its
soon-to-be-released recommendations on sugar intake.
''The recommendations will be taken heed of by public health
organisations, medical organisations and governments around
She hoped the study would help justify regulations around the
marketing and availability of cheap sugary foods and drinks.
Co-authors Dr Te Morenga, Jim Mann and research assistant
Simonette Mallard searched through the results and data from
almost 8000 trials and 10,000 studies before aggregating the
findings of 68 studies that looked directly at the effects of
free sugars on body weight.
Dr Te Morenga said such an analysis was the ''gold standard''
when it came to evidence in nutritional research.
The study found reducing sugar intake had a small but
significant effect on adult body weight - an average
reduction of 0.80kg - while increasing sugar intake led to a
corresponding 0.75kg increase in weight.
Prof Mann, who has been researching the health effects of
sugar since the 1970s, said the study's methodology helped it
to disentangle conflicting information about the role of
sugar in human health.
''The story about sugar and teeth and dental care is fairly
clear-cut, but with regard to other health issues, there has
been a certain amount of controversy, to some extent fuelled
by the industry,'' he said.
The study was one of the first to acknowledge sugar was not
the cause of the obesity epidemic but was a significant
The journal's editorial backing the study argued for action
at many levels - including education programmes, better food
and drink options at schools and work sites, and policy
changes like taxes on sugar-laden drinks.
Dr Te Morenga's said the message individuals could take away
from the research was to be careful about the amount of sugar
People should also be vigilant about being ''tricked'' into
consuming foods and drinks high in sugar, such as sports
drinks, snack bars and some cereals.
- Additional reporting by Matthew Backhouse of APNZ.