Although sugar intake is just one of the many causes for obesity, researchers in New Zealand found the effects of limiting sugar on body weight are significant. Their findings were published online Jan. 15 in the BMJ.
"Free sugars" are sugars added to foods by manufacturers, consumers and cooks. They are also found in honey, syrup and fruit juices, the study authors explained in a journal news release. The World Health Organization recommends cutting the intake of these free sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy.
After examining a total of 71 studies, including 30 trials where participants were randomly assigned to a sugar intake intervention or no intervention, Jim Mann, of the human nutrition department at the University of Otago, and colleagues in New Zealand found that cutting back on free sugars for up to eight months was associated with an average weight loss of 1.8 pounds. Meanwhile, increasing free sugar intake was linked to a weight gain of 1.7 pounds.
The researchers acknowledged that the findings were limited by the fact that few of the studies they analyzed lasted longer than 10 weeks. They concluded, however, "when considering the rapid weight gain that occurs after an increased intake of sugars, it seems reasonable to conclude that advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries."
Although the effects on children were less clear, the study authors noted that children with greater sugar intake were at greater risk for being overweight or obese.
In response to the study's findings, U.S. experts said limiting the intake of drinks sweetened with sugar through taxes on sugary drinks, restrictions on ads directed toward children and limiting serving sizes "is a high priority." In an editorial accompanying the study, Walter Willett, a professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and a colleague pointed to the need for educational programs, improvements in menus at schools and worksites, as well as nutrition programs for people with low incomes.
SOURCE: BMJ, news release.