Skip to main content
ARS Home » Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #288259

Research Project: Headquarters Cooperative Programs - Food Nutrition, Safety, and Quality (FNSQ)

Location: Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality

Title: What do government agencies consider in the debate over added sugars

item Klurfeld, David

Submitted to: Advances in Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/17/2012
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Americans consume on average one-third of a pound of sugar daily and one in ten derives more than a quarter of their calories from sugars. Because of the large increase in obesity, scientists and policy-makers have tried to tie changes in eating to this and many have linked consumption of added sugars to obesity. However, there is no scientific consensus on this connection. There is more compelling evidence that an increase in portion sizes, eating occasions, and a shift toward more foods with low nutrient density have all contributed to obesity. There is no evidence, only theory, to support taxation or regulation of sugar-containing foods to reduce obesity. Since so many foods have been linked with obesity, the rationale for focusing on soft drinks is weak. Government should consider the totality of the evidence including the strength of the relationship of sugar intake with various health outcomes.

Technical Abstract: The place of sugars in the U.S. diet is vigorously debated with much attention on added sugars, those added during processing or preparation of foodstuffs, particularly as they relate to obesity. Federal government agencies have different responsibilities related to the food supply including research, food safety, nutrition assistance, and labeling; therefore, the interpretation of evidence differs depending on the role of the agency. Some common references for government agency positions are the Dietary Reference Intakes and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which together form the foundation for much of federal nutrition policy. Sugar consumption has increased in proportion to intake of other nutrients since 1980, when obesity began to increase substantially. Median intake of added sugars is approximately 12% of energy while total sugar intake is about 22% or energy. While there are differences in the way individual monosaccharides are metabolized, they are rarely consumed alone. A key issue related to obesity is likely the increased number of eating occasions and portion size for many indulgent foods – grain-based snacks have become the biggest source of energy in the U.S. diet. There are currently insufficient data to justify a decision on regulation or taxation of sugar-containing foods and such as approach must be weighed against personal freedoms; the list of foods associated with obesity includes many commonly eaten items and it is not likely they are all causally related. Government should consider the totality of the evidence including the strength of the relationship of sugar intake with various health outcomes.