Cutting down on sugar has a small but significant effect on body weight

To lose less than 2 pounds? Forget it.

Media release below.

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Cutting down on sugar has a small but significant effect on body weight

And should be part of strategy to reduce high levels of overweight and obesity

Research: Dietary sugars and body weight: a systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies

Editorial: Science souring on sugar

Feature: Sugar and the heart: old ideas revisited

Reducing sugar intake has a small but significant effect on body weight in adults, finds a paper published on bmj.com today.

Although the effect is relatively small (an average reduction of 0.8 kg), the findings provide some support for international guidelines to cut sugar intake to less than 10% of total energy to help reduce the global obesity epidemic.

Excessive sugar in the diet has been linked to obesity, and a higher risk of chronic diseases. The most consistent association has been between a high intake of sugar sweetened beverages and the development of obesity, but not all studies have reported a statistically significant link.

The World Health Organization has suggested that intake of “free sugars” should be less than 10% of total energy intake, but no upper safe limit has been agreed. So a team of researchers at the University of Otago and the Riddet Institute in New Zealand analysed the results of 71 studies (30 randomised controlled trials and 41 cohort studies) of sugar intake and body fatness to summarise evidence on the association between intake of dietary sugars and body weight in both adults and children.

Free sugars were defined as sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer; plus those naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices. Differences in study design and quality were taken into account to minimise bias.

They found that advice to reduce free sugars was associated with an average 0.8 kg reduction in weight (in studies that ran for up to 8 months), while advice to increase intake was associated with a corresponding 0.75 kg increase.

This parallel effect, they suggest, seems be due to an altered energy intake, since replacing sugars with other carbohydrates did not result in any change in body weight.

The evidence was also less consistent in children, mainly due to poor compliance to dietary advice. However, for sugar sweetened beverages, the risk of being overweight or obese increased among children with the highest intake compared with those with the lowest intake.

The authors say that, given the many causes of obesity, it is unsurprising that the effect of reducing intake is relatively small, and they point out that some other unmeasured (confounding) factors may explain some or all of this effect. But they add “the overall consistency of the findings, regardless of study type, is reassuring.”

They also acknowledge that the extent to which population based advice to reduce sugars might reduce risk of obesity “cannot be extrapolated from the present findings, because few data from the studies lasted longer than ten weeks.” But conclude that “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.”

In an accompanying editorial, US experts say the association between sugar and poor health has remained contentious over the past few decades, but that accumulating evidence “points towards a role for sugar and other refined carbohydrates in the development of overweight.”

They say reducing the intake of sugar sweetened drinks “is a high priority” and point to policies such as taxes on sugar laden drinks, restrictions on advertising to children, and limits on serving sizes. They also call for action at many levels, including educational programs, improvements in foods and drinks in schools and worksites, and nutrition programs for people with low incomes.

Finally, a feature comments on the 40th anniversary of the publication of the popular book – Pure, White and Deadly – written by the British physiologist John Yudkin, which claimed that high sugar consumption was associated with heart disease.

It considers new evidence linking fructose (found in nearly all added sugars) with insulin resistance – a pre-cursor of heart disease – and suggests that Yudkin’s warnings are finally being recognised, despite ongoing opposition from the sugar industry.

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6 responses to “Cutting down on sugar has a small but significant effect on body weight

  1. “reduce the global obesity epidemic”

    It can only be reduced by the GONGOs. Since they made it up, only they can end it.

  2. Brian G Valentine

    More importantly, what can be done about the epidemic of useful idiots who believe anything a liberal tells them without thinking (and get angry at people who question)?

    I guess they have always been around, not much anybody can do about it

  3. Okay, what is the clinical signifcance of a 1.5% reduction in body mass?

  4. More sugar and obesity junkscience and fears, despite sound evidence after nearly a century of research that sugar does not cause any chronic disease of aging. Sugar has also not been shown to cause obesity; in fact if anything, there is a more consistently small inverse relationship. This meta-analysis being reported is riffe with the usual convoluted junkscience methods and interpretations, including that via discussions they chose to include only 30 of 7895 clinical trials (with durations as short as 2 weeks). The 8-month claim was based on 5 studies — ranging from 10 weeks (?) to 8 months in duration — as their proof that cutting sugar calories can stop obesity, The studies had used self-reported 1% -14% reductions in sugars, most (3 out of the 5) reported only on those participants who didn’t drop out, and authors claimed positive effects on weight with as little as 2.2 grams less sugar (1/2 tsp) a day.

    There is no reputable clinical trial showing more than temporary, short -term fluctuations in weight by manipulating the diet. Anyone can lose weight on a diet for a short term, but even when continuing to cut calories, for the vast majority of people, weight returns to their genetic setpoint range by years 2-5. Every study shows nearly an identical weight regain curve. That’s why the diet industry always stops studies short of the point where the weight gain exceeds the original weight and only reports short-term results. The FTC even sanctioned the major diet companies for this years ago, but they continue. And weight regain and yo-yoing brings all sorts of negative health effects. Diets and sin taxes don’t work, except for those selling them, along with educational programs, books, etc.

  5. One thing that constantly amazes me – at least here in Australia – is that you cannot buy any sugar sweetened drinks that contain, say, HALF the amount of sugar. There are no labels that specify a lower dose sugar drink – you can only buy “diet drinks” or “no sugar added” both of which means, inevitably – artificially sweetened – which taste ghastly regardless of any other consideration. Maybe if somebody produced a “reduced sugar content” cola etc they could make some money?

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