Study: Daily sugar intake guidelines are based on low quality evidence

Odd… an accompanying editorial criticizes not the study’s science… but the funding of the study.

The media releases (one from the researchers, one from the journal) are below.


Dietary sugar guidelines are based on low quality evidence
But limited sugar consumption still advisable


Hamilton, ON (Dec. 19, 2016) – Nutritional guidelines restricting sugar intake are not based on high quality science, finds new study led by McMaster University and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). The paper is published Dec. 19 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The research team conducted a systematic review of nine public health guidelines on sugar recommendations, including those by the influential U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the World Health Organization (WHO) and found that the recommendations for limiting sugar are based on low to very low quality evidence.

“Although our findings question the recommendations from guidelines produced by leading authorities, the findings should not be used to justify high or increased consumption of nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods and beverages like candy and sugar-sweetened beverages,” says Bradley Johnston, principal investigator of the review.

“We know that it is healthy and advisable to limit our sugar intake, the question remains to what degree, and if we are limiting our sugar intake what are we replacing the sugar with?”

Official caps on sugars vary widely, from less than five per cent of total daily calories, as recommended by the WHO, to advice from the Institute of Medicine which suggests the public to limit sugars to less than 25 per cent of total daily calories.

“When respected organizations issue conflicting recommendations it can result in public confusion, and this raises concerns about the quality of the guidelines, and the quality of the evidence that informed the guidelines,” says Johnston. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at McMaster University; an assistant professor of health policy, management and evaluation at the University of Toronto; and scientist in Child Health Evaluative Sciences at SickKids.

Johnston uses former “low-fat” guidelines as an example: “For 40 years it was advised to eat a low fat diet and, as a result, the food industry and the public looked for ways to lower fat content in foods. What happened is that the fat was typically replaced by simple carbohydrates which included sugar creating a less than optimal outcome including an associated rise in obesity and diabetes.

“In the case of lowering sugar intake, what is happening is that sugars are often replaced with starches and other food additives like maltodextrine, providing the same calorie count, but often accompanied by an increased glycemic index (and blood glucose levels).”

The research team identified problems with the nutritional guidelines and in particular problems with the research that supported the guidelines’ recommendations such as; the inclusion of imprecise or small studies; a high risk of bias from uncontrolled studies; the use of outcome measures such as “nutrient displacement, tooth decay and limited weight gain” that are of lower priority to the public, compared to arguably more important outcomes such as obesity and diabetes; a lack of transparency regarding financial conflicts of interest among groups members who developed the guidelines, and a failure to include patient and public representatives in the panels drawing up the guidelines.

Co-first author, Behnam Sadeghirad, a McMaster PhD student in health research methodology, said “At present, there does not appear to be reliable evidence indicating that any of the recommended daily caloric thresholds for sugar intake are strongly associated with negative health effects. The results from this review should be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”


Daily sugar intake guidelines are based on low quality evidence

1. Study suggests that daily sugar intake guidelines are based on low quality evidence

Accompanying editorial questions motives of study funding source



URLs go live when the embargo lifts

Nutritional guidelines restricting sugar intake are not based on reliable science, suggests a review published in Annals of Internal Medicine. The quality of available evidence to link sugar with health outcomes is generally rated as low to very low. Public health officials and consumers should be aware of these limitations when considering recommendations on dietary sugar.

The relationship between sugar intake and health is complex and is influenced by many variables. Based on available evidence, several authoritative health organizations, including the World Health Organization, have issued differing public health guidelines on sugar consumption. When respected organizations issue conflicting recommendations, it can result in confusion and raises concern about the quality of the guidelines and underlying evidence.

Researchers conducted a systematic review of nine authoritative guidelines on sugar intake to determine the consistency of recommendations, methodological quality of guidelines, and the quality of evidence supporting each recommendation. Guideline quality was rated using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation 2nd edition (AGREE II) instrument. To assess evidence quality, articles supporting recommendations were independently reviewed and rated using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methods. The researchers concluded that guidelines on dietary sugar are based on low-quality evidence and, therefore, do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations. These findings suggest that the development of trustworthy guidelines on dietary sugar requires improvement.

The authors of an accompanying editorial suggest that the public consider the funding source and methods of the review before accepting the authors’ conclusions. They note that the review was funded by the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute, a trade group representing several big companies in the food and beverage industry, including The Coca-Cola Company, The Hershey Company, and Mars, Inc.

4 thoughts on “Study: Daily sugar intake guidelines are based on low quality evidence”

  1. “Dietary sugar guidelines are based on low quality evidence”

    You could remove the word sugar and not a lot would change.

  2. I never cease to be amazed at the absolute outrage over the sugar content of a soft drink or a granola cereal while they totally ignore the drug pandemic (mostly illegal) that is killing thousands ( 3 times the total number of all gunshot deaths) from ODs, this does not even take into account the murders over drugs and drug territory (Chicago) or the DUI deaths.
    It’s like kicking your Yorkie while you ignore the grizzly bear.

  3. There will always be a data discrepancy between various groups vying for consideration of the effects of various substances on population health. It keeps them all employed. Far better to let the consumer decide by having total sugar and caffeine content prominently displayed on the outside of the container thereby allowing for consumer rights decisions to be left to the consumer.

    “In December 2005 a team of lawyers from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, were preparing to stop the sale of sweetened drinks in American schools. On board will be some of the trial lawyers involved in the highly profitable Tobacco Wars. The action will commence in Boston Massachusetts, the home of American Socialism. They plan to take on Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and probably Cadbury Schweppes Americas in a Sweet Soda Wars that will possibly make many trial lawyers very much richer. It is reported that they intend to traipse from state to state with their traveling circus. Their cover story is that they want to help stop childhood obesity.

    The main reason students drink so much Cola soft drink is probably due to the caffeine in each can. Most children are introduced to caffeine at a very early age, usually from chocolate and soft drinks. Most ice creams now have a chocolate covering. Many chocolate and soft drink manufacturers have supposedly increased the amount of caffeine in their product over the years and combined with fructose it probably creates a dependency, otherwise known as a craving.

    Just like the adults most children are probably addicted to caffeine. The cycle appears to be caffeine, alcohol then tobacco. Under the Primary Fundamental Right no hypermaternal group disguised as caring lawyers would be able to stop children deciding what they wanted to drink and when. With the Primary Fundamental Right there would be no separation of laws by age group. As with cigarettes and drugs, alcohol would not be a prohibited substance for children to buy and consume. Where they get the money to pay for their purchases should be something only their parents might ponder.”

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