The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new draft guideline which issued a warning on the dangers of a sugar filled diet. The WHO has decreased the recommended sugar intake for both adults and children from 10 percent to 5 percent of daily calories. The organization, which is the official health agency of the United Nations, cited the need to fight public problems. This follows a recent proposal by the FDA to revamp nutrition labels, also in an effort to help consumers watch their sugar intake.
The focus of the effort by the WHO is free sugars, which are simple sugar molecules that lack nutrition. These are the kind of empty calories found as additives in many things, from sodas and sweetened coffee beverages to less expected products like ketchup and muffins. The trouble with these free sugars is that they offer the human body nothing except for calories, which is a measure of how much energy a substance provides the body. Calories are the single biggest thing a body needs from a diet. However, most people already consume enough without sugar additives. When calories taken in exceed the calories expended through digestion, regular functions, and exercise, weight is gained, which is what leads to many of the health concerns outlined in the draft guideline.
There are also growing concerns that sugar may be an addictive substance. A day ahead of the WHO’s release, Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer of England, stated her thoughts that future research would prove sugar’s addictive qualities. The human body naturally craves energy as a survival mechanism. Craving differs from hunger in that hunger occurs when the stomach is empty and is a want for any kind of food as opposed to something specific. Cravings, therefore, represent something the body wants as opposed to something the body needs. Foods that are full of sugar are often much more craved because the body is looking to fulfill a want, something that will make the brain happy. The warning issued by the WHO on the dangers of sugar is an update of their last guideline, released in 2002 before a host of modern research has told us much more about the effects of sugar intake on the body.
The draft guideline also features a warning about dental disease and the cost of treatment. Dental diseases are the most prevalent form of non-communicable diseases in the entire world, and in many poor countries the potential cost to treat these diseases would exceed the entire healthcare budget. As a non-communicable disease there is some measure of preventability, and sugar has been found to be one of the leading causes of tooth decay in both children and adults, as well as gum disease.
The WHO draft guideline is now up for review before final clearance, but the warning issued on the dangers of sugar are well-cited. The organization is also very clear in their interest, with countries such as the United States and United Kingdom demonstrating the growing toll of rising obesity rates, some of which can be attributed to exceedingly high sugar intake. The WHO has been outspoken in its concern that sugar consumption is becoming out of control, and when eaten in place of more nutritionally adequate foods can cause weight gain and increased risk of disease. The hope is that the new guideline will create more public awareness and assist people in making healthy changes to their diet.
By Brian Moore