Washington | The global diet is getting sweeter, particularly when it comes to beverages, a trend that could negatively impact global health, researchers have warned. Previous research has shown that consuming foods and beverages with added caloric sweeteners is linked to an increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Currently, 68 per cent of packaged foods and beverages in US contain caloric sweeteners, 74 per cent include both caloric and low-calorie sweeteners, and just 5 per cent are made with low-calorie sweeteners only. The added sugar comes from hundreds of different versions of sugar, all of which have the same equal health effect, according to Barry M Popkin, from the University of North Carolina in US.
He expects that in the absence of intervention, the rest of the world will move towards a similar pervasiveness of added sugars in the entire packaged food and beverage supply, with added sugars of all kinds increasing rapidly in the diets of people living in developing countries, while many high-income countries, despite being among the highest sugar consumers, are beginning to see a slight decline in sugar consumption.
After analysing nutritional datasets from around the world, the researchers, including Corinna Hawkes from the City University London in UK, found that trends in sales of sugar-sweetened beverages around the world are increasing in terms of calories sold per person per day and volume sold per person per day. Consumption is rising fastest in low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, the researchers said.
The four regions with the current highest consumption are Latin America, North America, Australasia and Western Europe, though intakes are beginning to decline in the latter three, they said. Due to the major health risks, particularly weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and many cardiovascular problems associated with added caloric sweetener consumption, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is promoting major initiatives to reduce intake.
Many governments have already implemented policies with this goal, including taxation, reduction of availability in schools, restrictions on marketing of sugary foods to children, public awareness campaigns and front-of-pack labelling, the researchers said.
While the latest data show that many countries consume high levels of sugar-sweetened beverages, and other countries with lower intakes are seeing steep increases, the authors did find that consumption seems to be decreasing in countries with taxes on such products (eg Mexico, Finland, Hungary and France).