Newcastle study key for guidelines issued by World Health Organisation

A study by North East scientists was key in draft guidelines urging people to cut the amount of sugar in their diet by half

Professor Paula Moynihan of Newcastle University Dental School
Professor Paula Moynihan of Newcastle University Dental School

A Dental study carried out by North East scientists has been instrumental in creating draft guidelines on sugar intake issued by the World Health Organisation.

Experts at Newcastle University recommended that sugar levels should be cut significantly as part of a global initiative to reduce tooth decay.

The study, commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), showed that when less than 10% of calories in the diet is made up of free sugars, there are much lower levels of tooth decay.

Earlier this week, WHO announced people should cut their sugar intake in half if they want to reap health benefits.

In new draft guidelines, which are subject to consultation, it keeps to the original advice that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day.

But the new set of instructions also argue that cutting this intake to less than 5% would bring “additional health benefits” and is the figure people should aim for.

Paula Moynihan, professor of nutrition and oral health at Newcastle University, carried out the tooth decay portion of the study.

She said: “We need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices when it comes to sugars by ensuring that options lower in added sugars are made widely available in schools, shops and the workplace.”

For adults of a normal weight, the recommendations would mean cutting sugar intake from around 50g - about 12 level teaspoons - of sugar per day to less than 25g.

Health experts backed the move but called on WHO to make the 5% an official recommendation.

They also criticised the UK Government’s current ‘responsibility deal’ with the food and drinks industry, which sees companies such as chocolate manufacturers signing up to voluntary codes.

The suggested limits on intake of sugars in the draft guidelines apply to all monosaccharides (such as glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

Funded by Newcastle University’s Centre for Oral Health Research, Prof Moynihan, and Dr Sarah Kelly, now at Cambridge University, scrutinised all the studies which had looked at relationships between amount of sugars consumed and levels of tooth decay.

The WHO said in a statement: “The new draft guideline also proposes that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day.

“It further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.”


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